Monday 21 October 2019

Rahm claims Open double and vows to match Seve

Swashbuckling star turns focus to Portrush after stunning 62 burns off rivals at Lahinch

Hats off: Jon Rahm of Spain acknowledges the crowd after storming to success at the Irish Open in Lahinch. Photo: Sportsfile
Hats off: Jon Rahm of Spain acknowledges the crowd after storming to success at the Irish Open in Lahinch. Photo: Sportsfile

Brian Keogh

The Spanish Armada might have met a gruesome fate on the west Clare coast but there was no stopping Spanish raider Jon Rahm as he sailed majestically to his second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open victory in three years at a packed Lahinch.

The strapping Basque star (24) closed with a mesmeric eight-under-par 62 around the storied Old Course to win by two strokes on 16-under par and will now weigh anchor before setting sail for Royal Portrush with a dagger clenched between his teeth in search of the ultimate in booty - the Claret Jug.

If there's a player in the game who embodies the swashbuckling spirit of the late Seve Ballesteros, it's Rahm, who came from five strokes behind Robert Rock with a Sunday charge for the ages - carding an eagle and eight birdies in a sparkling round that featured no fewer than 11 threes, eight of them in a tournament-winning, 11-hole spell from the seventh.

He now needs just one more win here to match his idol with three victories in the Irish Open and having insisted in his press conference that he will be back to defend, whatever about the potential clash of dates with the WGC event in Memphis, his performance gave a brilliant Irish Open the final flourish it deserved.

"Do I even need to respond?" Rahm said, drawing gales of laughter, when asked if he'd defend his title after becoming the first man to win three Rolex Series events.

"I can't say again how much 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."

Jon Rahm showing off the trophy with his fiancee Kelley Cahill. Photo: Sportsfile
Jon Rahm showing off the trophy with his fiancee Kelley Cahill. Photo: Sportsfile

He will return to the world's top 10 today and while he hopes the world's stars add the Irish Open to their schedules in future, few would rival his brilliance on Irish soil where his record reads first-fourth-first.

Amazing

"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," he said.

"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."

When he followed a birdie at the second by missing a three-footer for par at the third, it appeared it might not be his day,

But he then put on a show that the capacity 20,477-strong crowd hugely enjoyed by following a two at the Dell with birdies at the seventh and ninth to turn in 31.

His compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello set the early pace by also turning in 31 but he would founder in Rahm's enormous wake, making four bogeys in a five-hole spell at the start of the back nine to fade to tied fourth alongside Rock and Eddie Pepperell after a 69.

Rahm birdied the 10th, then eagled the par-five 12th to get to within one stroke of his compatriot.

And while a bogey at the 13th might have sent him into a rage in previous years, he responded like a champion and followed a birdie at the 14th with another at the 15th, ignoring his caddie's advice to play left by rifling a 211-yard seven-iron from the right rough to three feet.

"He told me, 'Go left.' And I'm like, 'No. I'm going at the pin'," Rahm said. "It's one of those, where I was just full of confidence… that was the shot of the week right there."

He would birdie the 17th and par the last to win by two strokes from Andy Sullivan and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, who shot 66s.

But while three spots in The Open eluded Challenge Tour players Cormac Sharvin and Robin Dawson - Wiesberger, Rock and Paul Waring took those - they took major steps forward in their careers in terms of confidence. "You know, it's got nothing to do with physical ability," said Pádraig Harrington, who tied for 50th on one-under after a 70 as Shane Lowry took 34th after a 68 and Seamus Power came home in 60th after a 72.

"It's all to do with the belief whether they are good enough or not and that has to be deep down. That's not something you can tell somebody. They have to genuinely believe it deep down in themselves and weeks like this really help.

"We're definitely lacking at the moment on Tour. There's only sporadically three or four of us out there, five at most at times. We need a few young guys out there. When I started out, there were at least 14.

"It's time that we had a few of these guys come through. Cormac does look like a solid player. He's playing and doing well on the Challenge Tour and just getting his feet, feeling himself into this, and he does look like he has a bright future.

"Robin, obviously, has just turned pro. He's obviously a very good player. He has to find himself as well.

"Weeks like this really do help in that sense. You know, if they both finish it off today, it would bring tremendous confidence that they can do it; that they can play out on Tour."

Ardglass star Sharvin (26) has confidence in spades and he closed with a rollercoaster 70 to tie for 15th on nine under, pocketing a cheque for €85,655 that will cover the cost of a full-time caddie for the remainder of his Challenge Tour season.

"I haven't had everything this week, so for me to be able to compete, not having everything, it shows that I can stay out here," Sharvin said.

"I think I belong out here, and I think anybody who watched me would say the same. Coming into this week, I knew that I could compete with these guys and I tried to keep myself in that mindset all week and I proved that I can this week.

"It's definitely a big stepping stone for me. Obviously to compete with the best in the world is obviously going to give me confidence going forward.

"I already had huge confidence of getting my card this year. This is only going to add to that and hopefully I can kick on now and get off The Challenge Tour as soon as possible and get out competing with these guys."

As for Tramore talent Dawson (23), he posted a one-over 71 to tie for 27th on six-under, picking up €58,035.

"It gives me a lot of confidence," the Portmarnock Links man said. "It shows that I can play with the top, top lads, and I'm doing the right things, so it gives me a lot of confidence going forward."

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