John Rahm opens the third round of The Players Championship five strokes back

What if Jon Rahm won The Players Championship? The rookie is within striking distance heading into the third round at Sawgrass Country Club, five strokes off the lead at 4-under par. How great would this story be if a first-time player walked away with the title of the PGA’s “fifth major.”

Rahm came out on fire on Friday, collecting two birdies on the first three holes. He finished even par for the round (72). Now, with Saturday being moving day, will the 22-year-old from Barrika, Spain add Players Champion winner to his already impressive resume?

“Well, it’s been up-and-downs.  I didn’t miss a shot on the first three holes.  They were all pretty much perfect, and my expectations got really high real quick, and I think that’s what got me a little bit on the last few holes,” he said at The Players Championship media center after his second round.

“I think I stroked it beautifully off the tee, a little better than yesterday, and just wasn’t able to take advantage of a couple of those drives.  16 I had a 9-iron in and wasn’t able to make the birdie putt. Hang in there, good finishing birdie, even par round. This golf course is always a course that we all work on, so it’s good momentum going into the weekend.”

Yes, momentum. With the leaderboard changing on the first two days of the tournament in Ponte Vedra, Florida, a new leader (or leaders) could emerge from the pack after the third round. Rahm could be someone everyone is talking about Saturday evening.

Rahm won the Farmers Insurance Open with a 60-foot eagle putt on the final hole to notch his maiden PGA Tour title. The win also helped him gain entry into the Masters Tournament, The Players Championship, the PGA Championship and World Golf Championships events.

On 2 March, Rahm played in his first World Golf Championships at the WGC-Mexico Championship where he shot rounds of 67-70-67-68 (−12) to finish T3, two strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson. Three weeks later he played in his second WGC event at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and debuted as the No. 21-seed. He would go 3−0 in round-robin play, defeating Kevin Chappell 3 & 2, Shane Lowry 2 & 1, and countryman Sergio García 6 & 4.

He continued his domination in the round of 16 with a second consecutive 6 & 4 win over Charles Howell III and then bested that mark when he eliminated Soren Kjeldsen 7 & 5 in the quarter-finals. In the penultimate round, he met Bill Haas, and won by a score of 3 & 2, which meant that he would meet the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Dustin Johnson in the championship round. In the final, Rahm was down by 5 strokes after only 8 holes. However, he won holes 9, 10, 13, 15, and 16, while limiting Johnson to only 1 hole won, to get to 1-down going into the 18th. Both players made par on the final hole of the tournament and Rahm finished runner-up in his WGC Match Play debut.

Those experiences should help his game here at The Players Championship where the weather has changed and the potential for rain and a wet course is very possible.

Rahm, who is known as an emotional player, hopes to channel some of that temperament into playing his best round so far. He does have some work to make up – chasing the leaders in front of him. Five shots off the lead is not insurmountable, but he will have to remain steady and pick up strokes when he has opportunities.

“I swung a little faster and I was a little more tense than I probably wanted, but it helped me out on No. 6 and 7. 6, I hit a great 50-footer, almost went in, and 7, I made my par putt, and it helped certainly to hit a really long drive on 9.  Sometimes it doesn’t help because I get too much tension going on, and it happened on 8 throughout the whole.  Once I got to 9 tee I forgot about it.  I knew it wasn’t the greatest dynamic, so I reversed it and made birdie.  Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.  Yesterday it helped out.  Today, not so much towards those holes.  It’s something I like to do, I just let it go a little too much.”

Rahm is paired with Webb Simpson in the third round. The two tee off at 2 pm, the sixth group from the back to go off on Saturday.

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