- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

BETHESDA | Jim Furyk attracted one of the largest galleries of any player during round one of the Quicken Loans National Thursday afternoon, and for good reason.

The world’s No. 19 golfer entered the 120-player PGA Tour event hosted by Tiger Woods hot off a second-place finish at last week’s U.S. Open, and was a popular favorite to win the four-day tournament housed at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.

Though he could still do so, Furyk did himself no favors on his first day of play, finishing near the bottom of the pack with a 2-over par.

The bigger story — playing out in front of a smaller crowd — turned out to be that of a 21-year-old phenom playing just two holes behind the seasoned veteran.

Jon Rahm, playing his first 18 holes as a professional on Thursday, shot a stellar 7-under par in his debut on the circuit.

“I was just hot off the tee,” Rahm said. “I was hitting [the driver] really straight and I was hitting it long. Really comfortable, something that really doesn’t happen too often like all throughout the round, and thanks to that I was able to be a little more aggressive to some of the pins and today it paid off.”

The two-time winner of the Ben Hogan award, given to the best player in college golf, was the top amateur in the world and finished tied at No. 23 in Oakmont last week.

Following a two-hour rain delay, Rahm teed off just after 11 a.m. alongside Sam Saunders and Leesburg, Virginia, native Billy Hurley III, who shot 5-under on the day.

Starting his outing on the back nine, Rahm said he was anxious at his first hole—a 218-yard par 3.

“I knew I had one of the hardest par 3s I’m going to play all week in front of me, and when I saw the pin and it was not tucked to the water, I’m kind of thinking thank god,” he said. “Still got a 6-iron over water, a couple tiers. I hit a good shot on the green, two-putt and I got my round started.”

The Arizona State product who hails from Barrika, Spain, kept rolling from there. He would go on to his sink his first birdie at hole No. 12, one of seven total, and record zero bogeys.

While many players said the morning’s weather did not affect their game, Rahm said the damper course actually helped him.

“I can hit the ball high off the tee and get a long distance off the tee and carry. And on days like today, it’s a little easier for people like me to get a little advantage off the tee,” Rahm said.

Despite his eye-catching top 25 finish at the Open, Rahm did not take Congressional for granted.

He attributed mental focus and low expectations entering Quicken Loans as a large factor in achieving success Thursday. Rahm even stopped looking at social media prior to the event in order to keep his mind clear.

“When I look at social media from Spain, I’ve got a lot of people who have a lot of confidence in me which is great, but that doesn’t help my expectations,” Rahm explained. “So I stopped looking and focused on what I have to do instead of what I could do.”

After an outstanding first day, Rahm knows it will be difficult to maintain a spot toward the top the leaderboard, but has a simple way to keep his emotions in check.

“Time off golf is just as important as time practicing, so maybe just resting my mind a little bit would be the best way to do it,” Rahm said. “I think we had the plan of going to the movies afterwards.”

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