After Rocky Start, No. 1 Rahm Rounds Into Form August 21, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill. By Dave Shedloski

Jon Rahm showed he can be a force at the highest level of the game with his top-five finish in a PGA Tour event this year. (USGA/John Mummert)

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For the first three days of the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship at Olympia Fields Country Club, Jon Rahm has felt like he’s been running from behind and struggling to catch up. On Thursday, he never trailed in two matches, and is through to the quarterfinals.

After blitzing Cameron Young, 7 and 6, in the morning, the native Spaniard came out Thursday afternoon and kept Daniel Wetterich of Cincinnati at bay with a spate of clutch putts in a 3-and-1 victory. Rahm lost only one hole all day in advancing one stage farther than his effort a year ago, when he was eliminated in the Round of 16 at Atlanta Athletic Club. Rahm squares off Friday at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinal round vs. Derek Bard, of New Hartford, N.Y.

“Last year I was playing great, too, but I had to face Corey Conners, who got to the finals and played great,” said Rahm, 20, who is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and the 2015 recipient of the Ben Hogan Award as the top college player. “This year, I seem to be the guy who's making the putts, and hopefully I just keep it going. It's definitely like mission accomplished to get farther than last year.

“It's a great feeling, especially after all the trouble I went through to make it to match play, having to play a [18-for-10] playoff, birdieing 16 and 17 of my regular holes to get into that playoff, so, yeah, I'm extremely proud of myself how I just pulled it off.”

Rahm, a senior at Arizona State University, seemed impervious to any pressure from Wetterich as well as swirling winds and slick greens. He converted a series of clutch putts, many in the 10-foot range, that prevented Wetterich from cutting into a 3-up lead that he had built by the seventh hole.

“I really never thought about it, but I think in the three matches, I've only had like three bogeys, so one each match, and I've had like two or three birdies in each of them,” said Rahm. “I had my putter going. I started making putts and I kept it going in the afternoon. Anything inside 10 feet was going in. It just kept me extremely confident.”

No putt was more crucial against Wetterich than the 20-foot par putt Rahm converted from the fringe on the par-4 13th hole. He had nearly hit his second shot out of play, but found his ball near the bushes. He pitched long and then buried the putt with Wetterich sizing up a 4-footer.

“That one was definitely the biggest one … he made it, too, but being 3 up, five to play, if I just kept playing the same way, I knew if I made all pars I was not going to lose,” Rahm said.

“He putted amazing. He just kept making them,” said Wetterich, 19, who was playing in his first USGA championship. “He’s the No. 1 amateur. I hope he wins it all, so I can say I lost to the champion.”

Rahm would like him to say that, too, but the road doesn’t get easier. In fact, he figures people will be looking to him as the favorite, what with his record this year, which includes a tie for fifth in January at the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Does he feel like there’s a bit of a target on his back?

“I think there wasn't until now because I barely made it to match play. But now that I got all the way here, they're probably going to start going back in time, be like, ‘Oh, he did this in the Phoenix Open, Ben Hogan Award, did this and that,’” Rahm said with a grin. “They're probably going to be thinking about that, and it's probably going to motivate them to beat me, but it also motivates me to know who I am and how far I can go.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.

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