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Rahm emerges as McIlroy's Major rival as he looks ahead to crucial year

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Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 14th tee during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 14th tee during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY Sports

Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 14th tee during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Photo: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy knows Jon Rahm could prove to be his biggest rival as he bids to reignite his Major-winning career.

While McIlroy (30) remains second in the world behind Brooks Koepka following his tie for third in the Farmers Insurance Open, Rahm could take over as world No 1 this week after finishing second to Marc Leishman at Torrey Pines.

The Irish Open champion must win the Phoenix Open and hope that Koepka finishes outside the top four in the European Tour's Saudi International to climb to the top of the rankings.

The Basque star (25) heads a new generation of power players that McIlroy admits are his biggest challenge.

"When I first came out on tour and started winning Majors, you could probably count the guys on one hand that played a similar game to the way I played," McIlroy said at Torrey Pines.

"So where I used to get to the golf course and think, OK, maybe five or 10 people have a chance, nowadays it's 40, 50, 60 guys."

McIlroy was pleased to fight back from three-over after four holes and fire a closing 69 to start the season with a top-four finish.

Places

It was also a good week for Shane Lowry, who moved up one spot to 18th in the world and two places to 15th in the Ryder Cup World Points List following his share of 11th in the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Open champion joins Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Cormac Sharvin at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club knowing that a win would catapult him into the automatic Ryder Cup places.

Meanwhile, the Staysure Tour appears poised to announce the return of the Irish Seniors Open to the over-50s schedule as part of Ireland's 2026 Ryder Cup countdown. The event has been pencilled in for August 23-25 on a schedule sent to players, with the venue yet to be decided.

Belfast's Damian Mooney leads the Irish quest for just five cards after the opening round in the final stage of the Staysure Tour Qualifying School in Portugal.

He shot a level-par 71 to lie three shots outside the top five in 15th.

Meanwhile, the Irish golf tourism industry is in mourning following the sudden passing in Florida on Saturday of Noel Cronin, the esteemed former general manager of Waterville Golf Links.

Mr Cronin, who was the face of Waterville for thousands of visitors for more than 30 years, passed away while in Orlando promoting the Kerry links at the PGA Merchandise Show.

Irish Independent