Wednesday 21 February 2018

Mickelson backs Rahm to end curse

Jon Rahm plays a shot during his defeat to Dustin Johnson in the WGC Match Play. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Jon Rahm plays a shot during his defeat to Dustin Johnson in the WGC Match Play. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

James Corrigan

As a renowned gambler, Phil Mickelson does not always like to be in agreement with the bookmakers. But when it comes to Jon Rahm, the left-hander cannot help himself.

Mickelson plainly believes that the brilliant young Spaniard deserves his status as the player most likely to break the curse of the Masters debutant next week.

It has been almost 40 years since Fuzzy Zoeller became the last player, and the first since the event's first two stagings in 1934 and 1935, to win the Augusta Major at the first time of asking, in 1979.

Yet after Rahm's brush with glory at the WGC Dell Matchplay on Sunday, his Augusta odds have tumbled to an unprecedented low.

Ladbrokes report that at 22/1, no first-timer has ever been so fancied. Tiger Woods was 16/1 when he won in 1997, but although that was his first Masters as a professional he had played in it twice as an amateur.

Rory McIlroy was 33/1 in 2009 and Jordan Spieth 40/1 in 2014, which says plenty about Rahm's standing considering the size of their respective reputations at the time.

When asked if Rahm would be a threat at Augusta, Mickelson was unequivocal.

The three-time Masters champion knows the 22-year-old from the Basque Country better than most as he is managed by his brother, Tim, who gave up his lucrative coaching post at Arizona State University to become Rahm's agent.

"Jon's a real threat, yeah," Mickelson said. "And he continues to validate that with some incredible play."

Rahm was five down after eight holes of the final to the world No 1 Dustin Johnson and the overwhelming majority of the fans at Austin Country Club were anticipating an early finish.

But showing the aggression and creativity which marks him out as such an appropriate heir to his legendary countryman, Severiano Ballesteros, he stunned Johnson to take the match all the way to the 18th.

Indeed, but for a lavatory door being slammed as Rahm was chipping from the back of the green, he might even have completed one of golf's most remarkable comebacks. If he had, then he would have become the fastest player this century to reach the world's top 10 after turning professional.

Mickelson, however, thinks the rankings, which have Rahm at No 14, are not doing him justice.

"I think Jon is already one of the 10 best in the world," Mickelson said.

Divisor

"He's been out on Tour for nine months and his divisor is the same for a two-year divisor. If you divide it by the actual number of events he's played, he is in the top 10 in the world."

This was Rahm's 16th event since joining the paid ranks and in that short time he has recorded a win and two top threes in his first two World Golf Championship events.

Tim Mickelson is anything but from surprised.

"What I saw this week, I just watched the same guy I've watched for five years now," he said. "Like he said, he knows he belongs here."

Rahm plays in this week's Houston Open here, but Johnson withdrew yesterday.

After playing 112 holes in five days on his way to recording his third title in succession, it was probably a wise move as he concentrates on winning his first Green Jacket. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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