In his adopted hometown, Rahm has shot at second Farmers Open title

©The San Diego Union-Tribune

Jon Rahm lines up a putt on the 17th green of the South Course during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in San Diego. - Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS

SAN DIEGO — It’s becoming more than a warm-and-fuzzy story about a Spaniard who fell in love with a woman, and then a city.

Jon Rahm has adopted San Diego as his third hometown, behind Barrika, Spain, where he was born, and Phoenix, where he played golf at Arizona State and met his wife.

He proposed to Kelley, an Arizona native and regular summer “Zonie” invader to the county, at Torrey Pines. They will celebrate with the second of two wedding days here soon. He joined a San Diego golf club. And there is the matter that he absolutely loves playing the Torrey Pines municipal golf courses.

Three years ago, Rahm stormed from behind on Sunday with a 7-under-par 65 to capture his first PGA Tour victory in the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s poised to possibly lift another surfboard trophy — this time as the front-runner.

On Saturday, after fog delayed tee times by two hours, Rahm wrote down a birdie and eagle on his first two holes on the South Course without touching his putter. That scorching start led to a 65 that gave the burly 25-year-old a one-shot lead, at 12 under, over Ryan Palmer going into Sunday’s final round.

Reigning FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy, who can ascend to No. 1 in the world with a victory, shot 67 and was in a four-way tie for third at 9 under while getting into the final threesome.

The melding of player and place is not a concocted storyline, Rahm insisted.

“We spend a lot of time here,” he said of San Diego. “We stay at the same hotel every time we come, and it’s just comfortable. That’s the best word — comfortable and familiar. And once you’re comfortable, and you just keep going on in that routine, it’s easier to play good golf.”

Without the gossipy off-the-course tidbits, Palmer can say much the same of his affection for Torrey, and he’s giving himself another chance to affix his name permanently to the Farmers lore.

The Texan held the 36-hole lead for the second time in three years after firing a 62 on the North on Friday, and though he got off to a shaky start in the third round with three bogeys to counter three birdies, he was steady the rest of the way. With a birdie on the 18th, Palmer shot 71 to be alone at 11 under.

“In my mind, the hard part’s over,” Palmer, 43, said. “Getting through today’s round, leading by two … to keep myself in striking distance in the final group, one back — that was huge for me.”

Two weeks ago, Palmer contended deep into the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

“The way I feel going into tomorrow, knowing the rounds I’ve shot and the way I’ve played on Sundays as of late, the confidence is high,” Palmer said. “It’s a matter of just executing.”

Interestingly, Palmer and Rahm have worked successfully as teammates.

Indeed, Palmer has Rahm to thank, in part, for halting his tour victory drought of nine years. Last April, in the two-man team event at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the pair scored 69 in alternate shot in the final round to triumph.

Palmer, who has four tour victories, hadn’t lifted a trophy since the 2010 Sony Open.

“This will be a relaxing factor,” Palmer said. “Then, obviously, getting to watch (Rahm), and play with Rory — that’s the position you want to be in. You want to be with the best come Sunday late in the day. So I’m excited for that chance.”

McIlroy, 30, seems to not yet have gotten all he could yet out of his week at Torrey, and the Irishman still has a shot to win his 19th tour event.

He hit all but two greens in regulation in the third round and made “only” six birdies. Telling was that McIlroy needed 31 putts for a second straight day, while Rahm required only 24 on Saturday. Rahm is No. 1 for the week in stokes gained around the green; McIlroy is 11th.

Between the greens being very quick on Friday, and then slowing down on Saturday because of the fog’s dampness, McIlroy said, “That’s probably the reason why I haven’t holed as many putts as I would have liked this week. My speed just hasn’t quite been where it needs to be.

“Not everyone is holing a lot of putts out there, so just got to keep hanging around.”

Every player would like to open the way Rahm did on Saturday. He missed the first green and chipped in from 20 feet. At the par-4 second, Rahm fired a 56-degree wedge from 111 yards, the ball took a couple of bounces and dropped into the cup for eagle.

“Two holes, no putts — yeah, a pretty good start,” Rahm said.

The “MVP” club in his bag, Rahm said, was his lob wedge. He quickly rattled off the six holes he used it to get up-and-down for birdie or par.

In the 2017 Farmers, Rahm was three down when he started the final round, and that might be the bubble from which the winner needs to come from, though in a group at four back are some formidable players — Tony Finau, Marc Leishman, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker and J.B. Holmes.

Just outside of true contention was Tiger Woods, who started the third round with a burst of four birdies in the first nine holes, but had a ho-hum back nine in scoring 69. At five behind, Woods has virtually no chance of getting victory No. 83 to set the all-time PGA Tour record.

If Rahm were to win on Sunday, he would surpass even the King of Torrey Pines in one regard. It took Woods six starts to win his first two pro tournaments on the seaside layout, where he’s won eight titles total. Rahm would have two in the bag in just four appearances.

Who has the home-course advantage now?

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©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Jon Rahm hits a drive from the 18th tee of the South Course during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the Torrey Pines Golf Course on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in San Diego. - Hayne Palmour IV/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS