Jon Rahm claims Irish Open and eyes Seve’s treble
He moves to the top of Race to Dubai order of merit and back into the world’s top-10
Jon Rahm with The Irish Open trophy after his victory on Sunday. Photograph: PA
The Spanish influences in these parts stretch all the way back to the Armada of 1588, to such a degree that place-names and even some bloodlines provide a reminder of how that long-ago storm inflicted disaster became part of its very fabric.
Rahm’s route to a second Irish Open title was altogether more navigable that his fore-bearers, as the 6-feet 3-inch 24-year old collected his second Waterford Crystal trophy in three years with a stunning final round 62 for a total of 16-under-par 264, two strokes clear of joint runners-up Andy Sullivan and Bernd Wiesberger.
On a pet day, with sunshine and a breeze which failed miserably to protect the links, Rahm - who started five strokes adrift of 54-holes leader Robert Rock - negotiated a route to glory with a round of eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys that left all others trailing in his wake.
In collecting the €1 million winner’s cheque, to move to the top of the Race to Dubai order of merit and back into the world’s top-10, Rahm looked at the trophy and, as he rubbed his fingers along the base of the trophy, naming one great winner after another, he stopped to point out one name in particular, that of Seve Ballesteros, a three-time winner.
Would he be back to defend?
“Do I even need to respond?” he said as if affronted, to laughter. “I can’t say again how much if I like the country of Ireland. Yeah, you’ll see me here. Hopefully I get my third one and tie Seve. That’s my goal from now on coming to this event, is to have as many wins as Seve,” said Rahm.
Rahm is making a habit of these successes, having also lifted the title in Portstewart in 2017. And, on this occasion, he stole the show with a display of shot-making and, defying his size, also a deft short game which demonstrated how links golf appeals to his creativity.
Paired in the fifth from last pairing of the final round, Rahm started the day five shots behind Robert Rock but, quite early on, it was another Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello who seemed destined to engrave his name onto the trophy. Bello, at one point, overtook Rock and held a three shot lead with a bogey-free front nine to turn in 31 and seemingly cruising heading on to the homeward run.
However, Bello hit the rocks and was grounded by a back-to-back bogeys on nine and 10. It was at that point that Rahm was working his way up the 14th fairway, having bogeyed the drivable Par 4 13th, and happened to look at a leaderboard to discover he was in a share of the lead.
Let’s drop back to the 13th for a moment, for it showed Rahm’s ever-growing maturity. “I used the same ball for the first 13 holes of the day. We normally change but I was so locked into what I was doing, I made six birdies in a row until I made a five on 13,” recalled Rahm, at which point his caddie Adam Hayes gave him a new ball.
And as he handed Rahm the new ball, Hayes said: “You know what, this ball is the twin brother of the other ball. There’s a lot more birdies coming in.”
The lightheartedness of his caddie work a treat. As Rahm recounted of how it refocused the mind, “Not that the balls have anything to do with it, right, but how funny a comment like that from Adam or anybody can make you play more free.”
What followed was quite extraordinary, as Rahm rebounded from the bogey on 13 with birdies at the 14th and 15th and another on the 17th to stretch into an unassailable lead. Indeed, Rahm had no fewer than 11 threes on his scorecard, including six in succession from the seventh with the sequence finished with an eagle three on the Par 5 12th, where he sank a 25-footer. By the time he reached the 18th green, he was ready for the coronation and the acclaim of those supporters among the final day crowd of 20,477 who took him to their hearts.
“Every time I come, I feel like part of history is being made, and it’s just a humbling experience to come and play in front of this crowd. The list of winners, Faldo, McIlroy, Olazabal, Seve, the champions at this event, and to put my name on there is really special,” said Rahm.
“I’m playing definitely the most consistent golf of my career. It’s my 11th Top-10 this year, I believe, on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. It’s not doing anything necessarily better or special, really, compared to my first two years before. But I think I’m just a little more level-headed, a little bit more mature, slowly growing up and all that helps. Yeah, just mature, maturing. Still 24, so there’s a lot of growing up to do up to this point and a lot of growing up to do from now on. That’s the main difference in my golf game in this year and years past.”
The home challenge was left to two players still finding their feet on tour, but who showed their great potential in making the most of sponsor’s invitations: Cormac Sharvin emerged as the leading Irishman, firing a closing round 70 for 271 to finish tied-15th, while Robin Dawson earned a top-30 finish with a closing round 71 for 274.