| 18.1°C Dublin

Why new world No 1 Rahm can give Rory McIlroy a major lift

Close

Jon Rahm became the third-fastest player to top the world rankings after turning professional, overtaking Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Jon Rahm became the third-fastest player to top the world rankings after turning professional, overtaking Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Jon Rahm became the third-fastest player to top the world rankings after turning professional, overtaking Rory McIlroy. Photo: Getty Images

Losing the world No 1 ranking to Jon Rahm could be just the inspiration Rory McIlroy needs to roar back to Major-winning form.

The Co Down man hasn't recorded a top-10 finish since he returned from the PGA Tour's three-month coronavirus hiatus six weeks ago and been replaced by the two-time Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion at the summit of the world rankings.

Former Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley reckons Rahm will pose a significant threat to McIlroy's hopes of regaining his crown.

But he also knows that the Basque offers the kind of rivalry that might spark McIlroy and help him end a near six-year Major drought.

"Jon Rahm winning tonight will be good for Rory," McGinley said as he watched his son Killian compete in the Balbriggan Senior Scratch Cup on Sunday. "He's going to be his biggest threat over the next five years - not Dustin Johnson, not Brooks Koepka, not Tiger Woods, but Jon Rahm. Rahm has got no weaknesses in his game."

In winning the Memorial Tournament on Sunday, Rahm (25) overtook McIlroy (31) as the third-fastest player to reach No 1 in the world after turning professional.

Tiger Woods took just 290 days in 1997 with Jordan Spieth (two years, 245 days), Rahm (four years, 27 days) and McIlroy (four years, 170 days) the next fastest.

However, Rahm's rise had been widely expected by many in the game, including Phil Mickelson, whose brother Tim had coached him at Arizona State, where he became world amateur No 1.

As Action Network's Jason Sobel reported yesterday, five-time Major champion Mickelson spotted Rahm's talent early and won a sizeable bet with PGA Tour player Colt Knost.

"This kid is going to be top-10 in the world within a year," the left-hander told a group of players during a rain delay for the 2016 FedEx St Jude Classic.

He'd been impressed by the 62 that Rahm, then an amateur, had shot at exclusive Whisper Rock in Scottsdale.

"Let's just say, I will only be his partner from now on," Mickelson said at the time. "I haven't been able to beat him."

Impossible

Knost felt it was impossible for a college player to turn pro and break into the world's top 10 within 12 months.

"Do you want some action on that?" Mickelson asked Knost, getting 2/1 odds.

Knost agreed but ended up paying a sum "with a comma" as Rahm made the world's top 10 in May 2017 after just 21 professional starts.

"Jon Rahm is a remarkable talent," Mickelson said of the first Spaniard to hold world No 1 spot since Seve Ballesteros 31 years ago.

"And you're seeing it. You're seeing it in his play week in and week out from a game that has no weaknesses, drives it long, drives it straight, good iron play, good wedge player, great putter.

"He just doesn't have a weakness, and he also has great course management, thinks himself around the golf course, and he knows himself."

Rahm and McIlroy return to action for next week's WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational, leaving Seamus Power to fly the flag in the 3M Open in Minnesota.

Paul Dunne returns tomorrow from a nine-month break following a wrist injury for the Betfred British Masters at Close House, the first event in the European Tour's six-event UK Swing.

Irish Independent