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Dominant Jon Rahm Produces Superstar Performance at Irish Open

By: | Mon 10 Jul 2017 | Comments

PLAYING in only his second regular European Tour event, Jon Rahm produced a moment of brilliance and survived a rules controversy to thrill a large gallery and win the Irish Open at the stunning Portstewart by six shots after a final round of 65.

The moment of magic came at the par-five fourth hole. The 22-year-old Spaniard missed the fairway with his drive and was only able to hack the ball back onto the fairway but he then holed his third shot for a glorious eagle three that took him into a two-shot lead, and he never looked back. He had six further birdies and even recorded an eagle, this time at the 14th, to take complete control of the tournament. He could even afford to drop two shots in the final three holes without it making any material difference to the outcome.

He finished with a winning total of 24 under par. The victory takes Rahm into the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time, and his rise will surely only continue.

However, there were many who felt that he should have received a two-shot penalty after failing to put his ball back in the correct place on the sixth green. His ball was in the line of playing partner Daniel Im, so Rahm marked his ball to the right and then moved the marker a putter head to one side. But when he replaced the ball he put it back in front of the ball, quite clearly in a different position.

Rahm was told about the potential two-stroke penalty on the 13th tee by rules official Andy McFee, but after they spoke, McFee said there would be no penalty. The Spaniard has a change in the rules, introduced in April, to thank. An official can now rule that the player did "all that can be reasonably expected" to follow the rules, despite what video evidence shows. To make this judgment, an official can take several things into account, including the player's explanation, body language, comments from playing partners - and Im supported Rahm.

Richie Ramsay of Scotland shared second place on 18 under with Englishman Matt Southgate but they both left Northern Ireland with  consolation prizes, the former earning a spot in the year’s third major in two weeks and the latter virtually securing his playing privileges on the European Tour for 2018.

Justin Rose finished his week with a four under 68 to share fourth, the Olympic champion joined on 17 under par by Scot David Drysdale (63) and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox (68) – both of whom also secured their place in The Open Championship – as well as Daniel Im of the USA. Drysdale finished with seven successive birdies on his way to the lowest round of the week.

The Spaniard was thrilled with his performance. "It's really hard to explain right now. I know the trophy is right next to me and my name is going to be there for ever now, but it seems hard to believe that it's happened," he said. “It's somewhat surreal. It's hard to explain. I just look at it and I see Nick Faldo, I see José Maria Olazábal, I see Nick Faldo again, I see Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Seve. That's a list of the greatest European Tour players ever, and to have my name next to it, and the last one – Rory McIlroy – it's so special.

“Not just to win this event but to win it at the place I just won it, Portstewart – a great golf course – and with the fans supporting me better than I've ever seen anybody support me. It's been unbelievable.

“To actually play my best golf that I can remember till this day and shoot 24-under on this golf course and win it by six – that is not something I would have believed I was capable of. I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of, and it's a really, really special day.”

Rahm is certain to be one of the favourites at Birkdale and after watching him take to links golf like a duck to water it is impossible not to believe that he will not be in the mix coming down the stretch.

Ramsay never looked like winning but he was delighted to have turned his game around, having struggled with his form of late. “I’m massively pleased. It was a tough last few weeks missing the cut in France but I hung around over the weekend and grinded and worked hard. I'm a big believer that if you work hard, success will come," said the Scot.

“This year, it's taken a little longer than it should do but I've managed to get there in the end. It was great to play and play to win. Jon was obviously playing some fantastic golf out there. So I needed to keep the foot down and make some birdies. I’m a little bit disappointed with the last hole but I played to the wind and that's a great focus out there and great belief in myself that I can actually go out there and chase down such a big tournament like the Irish Open.

“I knew there were spots for The Open but it had totally gone from my mind. I was that focused on what I was doing, which is great to have, but it's a massive bonus.”

Southgate secured his playing privileges by finishing fourth in the same tournament last year, so clearly has a liking for this part of the world. “I'm absolutely thrilled to bits," he said. "That's some of the best golf I’ve ever played today. I really stuck to it out there and I just made it so easy. I wasn't sweating over any par putts, and I've done my job as well as I could today. I'm really completely over the moon.

“I've driven the ball really well. And I've done some work with Titleist at the start of the year to just tweak my driver and we went a little bit longer in the shaft, which they were a bit sceptical about doing, but something I had done as an amateur.

“And the first ball I hit in Dubai with the new driver, I thought, wow, that's how I used to hit it. It's taken me a few months to get it bedded in but I feel confident with that at the minute. This afternoon, I've driven it as good as anyone can drive it. Just every single drive's come out completely neutral. There are not really many golf courses in the world that are that difficult, if you slap-bang it in the fairway, and I'm not a short hitter. So we've taken the course apart, really, with driver this week.”

PGA Tour

The splendidly named Xander Schauffele birdied the final hole to win the Greenbrier Classic at the Old White TPC and secure his place in the field for The Open at Royal Birkdale, where he will also be joined by Robert Streb, Jamie Lovemark and Sebastian Munoz.

The Greenbrier Classic was the second of three PGA TOUR events which feature in The Open Qualifying Series and four places were available for golf’s most international major championship when it was played at The Old White TPC.

Schauffele finished in style with a birdie at the last to top the field on 14-under-par and win his first PGA Tour, coming just weeks after he finished in a tie for fifth place at the US Open at Erin Hills. The 23-year-old, who admitted that he had never been to Europe, signed for a three-under-par 67.

Shauffele birdied the first and eighth holes and although he dropped a shot at the 11th, he battled back with birdies at the 16th and, crucially, at the last to pick up his maiden victory.

Streb will play in The Open for a third consecutive time having finished in the second qualifying spot. Playing with overnight leader Munoz, Streb, who was on two-under-par for the day, suffered a double-bogey at the 13th but bounced back with a birdie at the next to finish one behind Shauffele.

Lovemark made a dreadful start, with a double bogey on the opening hole, but four birdieshelped him to a 69 and a share of third place. Munoz, who led from the first round through to Sunday, will make his major championship debut after holding on for a share of third place. The Colombian had a tough day at the office as he dropped shots at the fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth and 16th holes, but making it to Birkdale is some consolation.

Shauffele said afterwards: “I don’t know how I feel (about playing in The Open), I’ll let you know when I’m there as I’ve never been to Europe. I’m quarter French, quarter German so just to go to Europe and to England will be a really special experience. My dad told me that my only trip to Europe, because he had to pay for all of my golf and we couldn’t afford it, would be through golf.

“I’ve not heard a lot about Birkdale, I’ve been so focused on the task here. I know there is a tonne of history behind it so I’m excited to be there. It’ll be a new experience for me and I’ll be glad to get it under my belt.”

Streb's main concern is the weather. “It’s always a plus to get to go and play at The Open and in a major. It’s fun to play over there. I’ve no idea what Birkdale is like but hopefully it’s not too cold and rainy.

“Links golf is just different. Where I grew up, it was kind of windy so you just hit that low ball and chase it around. Obviously, you’re trying to avoid the bunkers and such but it’s something a little different and fun. The conditions can be a little tough.

“You get to get up and watch it in the morning, it’s the only tournament you could do that. I spent a lot of time watching Tiger (Woods) and the others and it felt like The Open always provided a lot of drama.”

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