While Tyrrell Hatton was applying even more venom to his epic rant against the closing hole at the Abu Dhabi Championship – a par-five the Englishman is certain cost him the chance of defending his European Tour title – Jon Rahm, the world No 1, went a few steps further by slamming the entire layout at the American Express Championship on the PGA Tour.
This was clearly no time to be a sensitive golf designer or, indeed, an uptight official in charge of course set-up on one of the male game’s two main circuits. Rahm’s put-down of La Quinta was particularly brutal. “Piece of s— f—ing set-up,” the Spaniard was picked up as saying as he walked off one green. “This is a putting-contest week.”
Later, he was rather more diplomatic when talking to the media, but there can be no doubt he believes the PGA Tour is providing tee-to-green tests that produce little more than birdie fests.
Two weeks ago, Rahm set a record by somehow finishing second at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii despite shooting 33 under par, then, last Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama fired 23 under to win the Sony Open.
Rahm played the first three rounds in 13 under at the multi-course Californian resort near Palm Springs but still found himself five behind American Lee Hodges. For Rahm, it is simply too straightforward. “If you come out here and you’re not shooting six or seven under for the most part, you’re almost losing strokes,” he said.
At least Hatton’s gripe with Yas Links was focused on just one hole – the 664-yard monster 18th. The Englishman actually birdied it in the final round but, if anything, was feeling even more disdain than on Saturday, when he labelled it “one of the worst par-fives I’ve ever seen”.
Hatton made a double-bogey seven there in the second round and a quadruple-bogey nine in the third round and the maths only poured paraffin on his anger.
He finished in a tie for sixth on seven under courtesy of a 67, three behind champion Thomas Pieters. If Hatton had merely made two bogeys on the 18th on Friday and Saturday, he would have won by a stroke. Cue a doubling down of his fury.
“I would love for a bomb to drop on it and blow it to oblivion, to be honest,” he said. “It’s just such a terrible finishing hole. And the fact that they moved the tee back today is ridiculous. I hit a really good tee shot and still had 290 [yards] to the front. I could peg up a driver and still not get there. It would be a better finishing hole if you’re actually rewarded for hitting the fairway, which, as it stands, you’re not.”
Hatton won the event 12 months ago when it was staged at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. To say he is not an admirer of the new venue would be a ridiculous understatement. “I’m obviously not a fan. We are due to come back here next year and it would be nice if they redesigned it. But I think that’s a bit of an ask. Perhaps I may not be back,” he said.
His misery was in stark contrast to Pieters’s joy, which should also be felt by every European Ryder Cup fan after the comeback of a man who made such an impression by gaining four points in the 2016 dust-up.
He has hardly disappeared since but his failure to build on that potential has become a talking point. With two wins in his past three events, he at last seems to be back on track.
With a level-par 72, Pieters signed for 10 under to move back into the world’s top 35 with a £1 million cheque, his biggest payday yet.
Rory McIlroy finished in a tie for 12th on five under after a 69. Having only scraped inside the cut, he will head into this week’s Dubai Desert Classic with some confidence.