Jon Rahm winning hearts as he looks to follow his heroes

Young Spanish sensation in contention to join the Spanish roll of honour at the Irish Open

When he was done, Jon Rahm acknowledged those packed into the steel grandstands around the 18th green with the sort of graceful wave that you'd see a matador perform before going in for the kill.

And the 22-year-old Spaniard – who has made an extraordinary impact on the professional game in little more than a year in the paid ranks – showcased his talents to remain on course to follow his golfing heroes Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia on the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open roll of honour. He's within touching distance of joining them.

A third round 67 for 199, 17 under par, enabled Rahm to move into a share of the 54-hole lead alongside the American Daniel Im on the sun-kissed links of the Strand Course at Portstewart.

The co-leaders, though, have a number of players in close pursuit: Frenchman Benjamin Hebert rolled in a 40-footer for an unlikely par on the last to sign for a 69 for 200, a shot adrift, while Japanese golfer Hideto Tanihara's 66 for 201 moved him within two strokes of the leaders.


Rahm, ranked 11th in the world, and Im, who is ranked 542nd, have produced masterclasses over the opening three rounds.

“They’ve treated me like one of their own,” observed Rahm of the support he has received from the galleries. With no Rory McIlroy and no Graeme McDowell, and a disappointing third round from those Irish players who survived the cut, Rahm’s prodigious driving and soft hands around the greens have won him many new fans.

Although he found it tough going on the front nine, turning in one-under 35 on his round, Rahm was transformed on the homeward journey.

“I told myself it was time to make some birdies. I kind of realised what I was doing wrong. I was a little tentative on some putts, not committed to a couple of shots.”

It worked. He strung together a sequence of four straight birdies from the 11th to the 14th, a run that had roars resonating around the dunes. The one on 14 was straight out of the book of Ballesteros. “I was all over the place,” he said.

He won’t have it all his own way, with Im looking and playing impressively so far.

“I just enjoyed every moment of it. I mean, coming down the stretch, I had goosebumps on my back,” said Im, a 32-year-old Californian who graduated from the Challenge Tour and is chasing his maiden Tour win.

Of playing alongside Rahm, he said: “I think it’s going to be amazing. He’s oneof the fastest-rising stars in the world.”

On a day of wonderful sunshine and a crosswind that gave the course some protection, the scoring was generally good – featuring a hole-in-one from Peter Hanson and 64s from Scott Hend and Julien Quesne that enabled them to leapfrog up the leaderboard – but such hot scoring failed to be conducted by any of the five Irish players who had made it into the weekend.

Pádraig Harrington got off to a shaky start, bogeying his opening two holes, but he would finish the day as the leading Irishman after a 71 for 208, all of nine shots behind the pacesetting duo.

Anyone who witnessed Harrington’s open tee-shot – a two-wood that veered right into the thick clump of bushes – would have wondered what adventure lay ahead.

In fairness, and with a great show of sportsmanship from his playing partner South African Dean Burmester, who ventured into the overgrowth to give Harrington a line to the flag after the Dubliner took an unplayable lie, he manufactured a quite superb bogey in the circumstances.

Harrington’s bogey-bogey start put him on the back foot, but he was error-free thereafter and shot a 71 for 208, eight under.

“I was all over the place on the front nine,” confessed Harrington. “I struggled in the crosswinds and firmer, faster fairways and the greens a bit quicker. I had done everything possible to keep my score together on the front nine and created a lot of chances on the way home. You know, it could have been better.”

On a very poor day scoring-wise for the home contingent, Harrington – in tied-29th – is best placed heading into the final round.

Paul Dunne started out the third round as leading Irish player but he felt uncomfortable in his pre-round session on the driving range and it carried with him onto the course where his short game and putting untypically let him down. Dunne shot a 74 for 210 which left him in tied-45th on the same mark as Shane Lowry (71) and Michael Hoey (70).

“I had everything from a two to a seven on the card,” said Lowry of a disappointing round, which hit its depths on the Par 5 13th – “I’d all of Portstewart down the left” – where he pushed his drive right where the ball hit a path and careered into the wild grasses never to be seen again. He ran up a double-bogey seven there, and although responding immediately with back-to-back birdies, the damage had been done.

Gavin Moynihan, playing on a sponsor’s invitation, struggled to a 73 for 211 which dropped him down 21 places from his starting position to tied-51st.

“My pace putting wasn’t good today. It kind of cost me early on. “The wind was affecting a few of the putts on the green. It was just one of those days when it wasn’t my day,” said the Dubliner.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times