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Rahm targeting a long reign as world No 1

Spaniard gunning for WGC title in Memphis with McIlroy in pursuit

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Eyes on the prize: Jon Rahm says becoming world No 1 only became a genuine goal of his during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Getty Images

Eyes on the prize: Jon Rahm says becoming world No 1 only became a genuine goal of his during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Eyes on the prize: Jon Rahm says becoming world No 1 only became a genuine goal of his during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: Getty Images

Jon Rahm insists he must consider himself the game's best player if he is to retain his world No 1 ranking in the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis.

The Basque star (25) revealed that he only made becoming world No 1 a goal during the Covid-19 lockdown.

But now that he's followed in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros by becoming just the second Spaniard to reach the summit, he's set his sights on extending his lead over the chasing pack and targeted wins in WGCs, Majors and the FedEx Cup.

"It's a goal accomplished," said Rahm, who knows he could be overtaken this week by Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas after just two weeks as top dog but insists his goal is to "keep improving".

"I think a lot of times a person resets his goals every year, and even during quarantine, I wrote new ones. It was the first time when I stopped kidding myself, and I acknowledged that I wanted to be No 1 in the world, and I wrote it as a goal.

"I always said it was a consequence of playing good golf. Play good, it will take care of itself. But it was the first time I made it a goal. At the same time, it's not only to get there, it's to stay there."

Believing he's the best player in the world is now the challenge for Rahm, who knows he must have total belief if he's to stay there.

"I think nowadays it's really tough to determine one player, because, yeah, Brooks (Koepka) is having a hard year right now, he's not playing his best, but he has won four Majors in the last few years," Rahm said. "Rory played amazing last year.

"It's hard to dictate one player alone. But it would be foolish of me to say that I'm not here thinking I'm the best player, and I think all the great players out there who have got to this point are playing like they believe they're the best player, right."

McIlroy, who will play with Jordan Spieth and Webb Simpson for the first two rounds, is joined in Memphis by Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry before they move west for next week's PGA Championship in San Francisco.

But while European Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington (48) is also in the field for the opening Major of the season at TPC Harding Park, the Dubliner will wait until later this week before deciding if he will make the trek to California.

The 2008 PGA champion, who has not played a competitive round for five months, would need top-four finishes in the PGA and the following week's Wyndham Championship to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs, which begin on August 20.

Harrington has also missed the cut in six of his last seven PGA Championship appearances and while organisers of this week's opposite-field Barracuda Championship flagged his participation alongside Seamus Power at Tahoe Mountain Club in California, his name disappeared from the entry list last week.

On the European Tour, Jonathan Caldwell, Paul Dunne, Niall Kearney, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin will be hoping to notch what would be a fifth Irish victory in the European Tour's Hero Open at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club near Birmingham.

Formerly the English Open, the event was won by Philip Walton in 1995 before Darren Clarke triumphed in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

Meanwhile, Leona Maguire added a six-under 66 to her opening 70 to win the Team Ireland Golf event at Mount Juliet by two strokes from Stuart Grehan on eight-under par.

Irish Independent