Jon Rahm's playoff start, after Olympics COVID WD, has a familiar feeling

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – For many in this week’s post-season field, Jon Rahm’s first-round 63 was nothing short of a feat of strength.

With winds gusting across a quirky course and a field average that tilted over par (71.27) anything under par was worth celebrating, but for the co-leader it’s just another chapter in "The Adventures of Jon Rahm."

The six-time PGA Tour winner is really good at golf and his 8-under opening effort was only good for a share of the Day 1 lead at The Northern Trust, alongside Justin Thomas. But when it comes to the Spaniard, the scorecard only tells a fraction of the story.

His opening effort at Liberty National was Rahm’s first meaningful round since The Open in July. He’d planned to play last month’s Olympics, but he tested positive for COVID-19 … for the second time … for the second time in a month.

“I can't really explain what in the world happened,” he admitted earlier this week. “I don't know if it's false positives or just what I had left over from when I had COVID, just dead cells that were in there that we all know can happen.”

Full-field scores from The Northern Trust

It really didn’t matter. At least it didn’t matter to Rahm. The result was another missed opportunity at the hands of a virus that remains a mystery more than a year after a pandemic altered nearly every aspect of daily life.

Rahm’s first brush with the coronavirus came in June at the Memorial. He’d been in close contact with someone who had tested positive and, under the Tour’s protocols, had to submit to more rigorous testing.

In a dramatic moment in front of the entire viewing world, Rahm was informed he’d tested positive and would be forced to withdraw. He’d just completed a brilliant third-round 64 for a six-stroke lead at Muirfield Village.

At the time, it was all high-road stuff. He went into quarantine and hoped for the best, which in this case meant a series of negative tests that would allow him to play the U.S. Open.

When he arrived at Torrey Pines it was as if he was playing with house money. His expectations were low and confidence high. The result was a career-defining performance for his first major championship.

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Then Tokyo happened and a second positive test that baffled doctors and kept Rahm from representing Spain in the Summer Games.

“This was a little harder to digest than Memorial because I've done everything the system tells me to do,” he said.

What he didn’t do was lament his bad luck. That’s not Rahm’s style. Instead, he figured there was something the universe had planned for him, just as he did after testing positive at the Memorial.

“After that positive on Saturday [at Memorial], I told [wife] Kelley, something good is coming our way. I don't know what it is. It might not be related to golf, but something good is coming our way,” Rahm said. “When I hit the first tee shot on Sunday at Torrey, I felt it.”

Ball-striking creates low round for Rahm

Maybe there is no mystical ending in store at Liberty National, but it’s impossible to ignore the trend – endure a gut punch at the Memorial and cash in your cosmic chips at the U.S. Open.

He wanted to be in Tokyo, which is saying something considering how many players opted out of the trip. He never had the chance to build a six-stroke lead at the Olympics, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.

“I don't think it's the same, because this time I didn't get the chance to go. The feeling of redemption is not going to be quite as big, but hopefully it carries on for the next three weeks and I end up on top again,” he smiled.

Just to stay on brand, it was an equally eventful start to his round on Thursday. Although his 63 may have looked easy it was anything but, especially his first six holes that included a chip in for birdie (No. 3) and scrambling pars at Nos. 4 and 5.

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“Those first five holes or six holes, even though I was 2 under par, it was very close to being a very different story,” he said.

Luck is what you make of it and Rahm has played the game long enough to know that there are no paybacks, regardless of how hard the golf gods come down on you. He’d also just assume not make a habit of jumping on every roller coaster that comes his way.

“I sure don't want to have to rely on being pulled out of tournaments to be able to win one, let's just say that,” he laughed.

Fair enough, but for now the adventures of Jon Rahm continue.