A world-class champion on a world-class course. Jon Rahm rose to the top to win his second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in three years with a stunning final-round 62 at Lahinch yesterday and immediately set his sights on matching his hero Seve Ballesteros’s feat of three victories in this hallowed tournament.
Capacity weekend crowds at Lahinch witnessed greatness from the Spanish 24-year-old, who followed a third-round, six-under-par 64 on Saturday with even better golf yesterday, an eight-under 62 that delivered a repeat of his 2017 success at Portstewart, a third Rolex Series victory and made Rahm the fastest to four European Tour wins in more than 40 years, having also won the DP World Tour Championship in 2017 and the Spanish Open in 2018.
Rahm had professed his affinity with Ireland, its people and golf courses, all week here in Lahinch and last night pledged to return in 12 months and defend his title in a bid to match the late Ballesteros’s wins in 1983, 85 and 86.
“Do I even need to respond?” asked Rahm jokingly when asked if he would be back to defend. “I can’t say again how much I like Ireland.
Rahm’s promise may be put to the test, however, with 2020 being an Olympic year and the already compressed global calendar set to be squeezed further, as it was when golf was reintroduced to the Summer Games in Rio in 2016.
That was the year that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational muscled in on the corresponding week of this year’s Irish Open, when the French Open was in that spot, two weeks out from The Open.
ord around the European Tour players is that a similar scenario could be in play next summer with the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis said to be eyeing the Irish Open’s current slot in the schedule.
Further complicating matters, albeit not for Irish golf fans, is that the star-studded JP McManus Pro-Am is already scheduled for July 6-7 at Adare Manor in Limerick with commitments to play already from PGA Tour stars including Rahm, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia to name but a few.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is scheduled to meet his PGA Tour counterpart, commissioner Jay Monahan, at Royal Portrush the week after next during The Open and it understood the Irish Open date is high on their agenda.
None of that was bothering Rahm last night, however, as he savoured his victory over a quality field assembled by tournament host Paul McGinley and urged his PGA Tour colleagues to play the Irish Open and check out what they have been missing.
“It would be amazing to see some of the best players in the world come over and play because they really are missing some of the best golf courses I’ve ever played in my life.
“I always say, Portstewart, the front nine, is arguably the most beautiful front nine I’ve ever played, and I can honestly say of all the golf courses I’ve played in the world, this is probably one of the best I’ve played.
“Some people might say some of the holes are a little quirky. I just decide it’s different. It’s unique. It’s traditional and you really need to play really good golf to shoot low around here. “We got really lucky, it wasn’t windy. If it was windy we would have seen a test of golf, because none of those shots are easy. It’s a great golf course. It’s a great tournament. It’s a great host country. They are missing out on a lot. They would have a lot of fun here.”
Rahm did make Lahinch and the game of golf ridiculously easy over the weekend. He had only made the halfway cut by two shots at two under par but walked off the 72nd hole at 16 under.
His Saturday 64 had been overshadowed by Robert Rock’s surge to the 54-hole lead with a 10-under 60, the lowest round in Irish Open history, but it proved to be a telling rebound from a Friday 71. Rahm started his final round five shots behind the record-breaking Rock and started with par-birdie-bogey as the overnight leader got his round underway in the company of Rafa Cabrera Bello.
The three men would each play their part in a gripping final round but it was Rahm who really had the bit between his teeth, adding a further four birdies before an eagle three at the 12th gave him the lead, only to then bogey the par-four 13th.
The bounceback was impressive, though, Rahm closing out his two-shot victory over Andy Sullivan of England and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, with three birdies in the next four holes before a par five at the last.
Rock, twice an Irish Open runner-up, could only follow his 60 with a level-par 70 to finish tied for fourth alongside Cabrera Bello and Eddie Pepperell, both of whom shot 69s in front of a 20,477 crowd.
The card Rahm signed showed 10 threes in his last 12 holes and he said: “I can’t remember making as many threes as I have today. Yesterday was somewhat of a similar day. I had a three on 18. Ball-striking wise has been really good the last few months. It was really good at the US Open. It was really good at Valderrama. Just my putting wasn’t co-operating as much as I would have liked.
“It was the same case Thursday and Friday. But today and yesterday, I gained a lot of confidence with the putter and that was the main reason I was able to make all these threes, just had my confidence.”
It is a confidence Rahm will undoubtedly take to Royal Portrush in search of improving a pretty poor Open record which reads T59, T44 and MC in his first three appearances.
“I’m going into The Open Championship with a lot of confidence. It’s the only major I haven’t had a good performance at and I want to. It’s a special one. I’m going to have a lot of good memories from The Irish Open in Portrush because we stayed in Portrush when we played Portstewart.
“Yeah, good vibes, and hopefully the Irish crowd is as supportive as it’s been in the last few years and I can make a charge.”