Jack Nicklaus believes Jon Rahm deserves a trophy for his performance at The Memorial

Jack Nicklaus admitted the sad withdrawal of Jon Rahm from The Memorial was “tough to swallow” as a number of PGA Tour stars expressed sympathy and dismay following the Spaniard’s positive Covid-19 test.

Rahm walked off the 18th green with a commanding six-shot lead after his brilliant 64 on day three, a round described by Shane Lowry as one of the best he’d ever seen, but joy turned to despair shortly after he was greeted by the PGA Tour’s medical advisor, Dr Tom Hospel.

With many observers assuming Rahm had been informed of a possible shot deduction, it was soon revealed that the world No 3 would be withdrawn from the tournament having tested positive for Covid-19, a result that was confirmed when he was on the 18th fairway.

While Rahm headed off to self-isolate until the Tuesday of US Open week, Memorial Tournament host Nicklaus discussed the situation with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who was “proud” of Rahm for his handling of the unfortunate turn of events.

“Jay said Jon has handled it really well. He said he handled it with a lot of class and that he’s very proud of him,” Nicklaus told the Golf Channel during their final-round coverage. I would think Jon would handle it that way.

“He understands we have rules and unfortunately the rules are not something that you may like but they are the rules we have right now. You have to abide by them. I don’t know how you send him a trophy for three-quarters of a tournament but I’d certainly like to.”

Rahm sank to his haunches and appeared close to tears after being given the devastating news by Dr Hospel on Saturday evening, and Nicklaus added: “I don’t think I’ve seen anything that affected an individual that much. Particularly in that position in the tournament. That was a tough thing to swallow for everybody.”

Rahm’s misfortune was Patrick Cantlay’s gain after the American edged out Collin Morikawa with a par at the first playoff hole to win at Muirfield Village for the second time, and while he felt immense sympathy for the Spaniard, he was able to refocus on the job in hand despite the “weird situation”.

“It was very unfortunate,” said Cantlay. “Jon played so amazing the first three rounds that the way I felt Sunday morning was obviously a lot different than I felt walking off the 18th green on Saturday.

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“Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do except reset and just take the new paradigm and run with it. I thought I did a good job of staying focused and it really felt like a battle between Collin and I all day and that’s just kind of how it played out.

“There’s maybe a little hint of something I can’t quite put my finger on, but I mean, the emotions I feel out there and the focus that it took today was just as any other tournament.

“I think I’ll definitely remember it slightly different, but it felt no different. And it is a very unfortunate situation and not anything I would wish on anybody.”

Morikawa added: “You see what happened to Jon and it’s awful. He deserved to go out and play really well and he was 18 under. But rules are rules and you have to follow guidelines. We knew all the risks going in, him not getting vaccinated.

“But all I had to do was focus on my game and go out and play golf. There’s nothing else I could really change. I can’t dictate anyone else’s future or how they play or what’s going on. So waking up this morning I felt great. I was ready to go play golf and see if I could win the tournament.”

Lowry, who finished in a tie for sixth, backed Rahm to “dust himself off” and be ready to challenge for the US Open title at Torrey Pines despite his lack of preparation due to his period of isolation.

“It’s such a difficult situation, a difficult situation for everyone”, said Lowry. The Tour had some tough calls to make and that’s just the world we’re living in at the minute. It’s just not really fair, is it?

“Luckily enough Jon Rahm is one of the best players in the world and will be for a long time and he’ll have more chances to win tournaments. So if it was someone else who wouldn’t really get the opportunities that he’s going to get it could be a lot worse, so I’m sure Jon will kind of dust himself off and get back.

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“Hopefully he gets back for the US Open and then kick off in the summer. But obviously, I think to put it into context the round of golf he played yesterday, I think it was the best round of golf I’ve ever seen because I think this golf course was like as difficult as you can get a golf course yesterday.

“I just couldn’t believe what the leaders were doing, and I was one under for the day, which was turned out to be a pretty good score. But he’s got to be frustrated, because he was obviously playing so well.”

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