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Jon Rahm Toasts Victorious Homecoming at Open de Espana

By: | Mon 16 Apr 2018 | Comments

JON RAHM, fresh from finishing fourth at The Masters, produced a superb final round of 67 to win the Open de Espana in front of a massive and hugely partisan crowd in Madrid. He began the final round trailing Paul Dunne by two shots but as the Irishman struggled with his game, the 23-year-old Spaniard recorded six birdies to win his national title by two strokes from Dunne.

Another Spaniard, Nacho Elvira, finished a further shot behind after mounting a fabulous challenge that came to a shattering conclusion when he found water at the penultimate hole and then missed a tiny putt on his way to a horrible double-bogey that ended his chance of victory.

Rahm was thrilled to have won in front of his home fans. “I didn’t come here just to walk round. I came here to win. It means a huge amount to win this tournament in front of these magnificent people. I drove the ball really well, which helped to make up for my poor putting this week,” he said. “It is the hardest Sunday I have ever had to play because I could feel that the crowds really wanted me to win. I was tense and stressed but a few putts here and there were great."

It was always likely that Rham would turn out to be Dunne’s most serious challenger, and that quickly proved to be the case – incredibly, the Spaniard has finished in the top 10 in more than 40% of the events in which he has played since turning professional. On a very untypical Spanish day, with clouds overhead and a strong wind blowing, Dunne made only his fifth bogey of the week at the fourth hole and for the first time since Thursday, found himself trailing.

Rahm had opened with birdies on the first and second holes to move to 17 under par and as he walked off the fifth green he found himself leading by one from Dunne, Elvira and South Africa’s George Coetzee, who was in the clubhouse after a remarkable round of 63. Coetzee birdied the first, second, fifth, sixth and eighth holes to turn in 31 and he maintained that form on the back nine, with an eagle at the 10th and birdies at the 12th and 18th. It was a wonderful round of golf .

Minutes later, Elvira was in the lead after holing an outrageous putt on the par-five fifth for an eagle three to take him to 18 under. Dunne, playing with him, almost made an eagle of his own but a birdie got his round back on track and had him level with Rahm. Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2014 was the last home winner.

It is easy to underestimate Dunne. He is only 5ft 9in and appears to be pretty mild-mannered, but let’s not forget that back in 2015 he led The Open at St Andrews after 54 holes while still an amateur. Last year he shot a final round of 61 to hold off the challenge of Rory McIlroy and win the British Masters, and he recently finished fifth and eighth in successive appearances on the PGA Tour. The eighth place came at the Houston Open and was largely overlooked as Ian Poulter claimed that long-overdue victory. Dunne took a triple-grey eight in the final round after twice finding water at the eighth and showed tremendous resilience to bounce back with three birdies on the back nine. He has a huge heart, and plenty of game, so he wasn’t about to be downhearted about losing his lead.

But Rahm also had the bit between his teeth. He should have birdied the sixth. He did birdie the seventh to join Elvira on 18 under. The large galleries were beside themselves with two Spaniards at the top of the leaderboard. The crowds were swollen by an initiative that saw everybody given free admission.

Elvira was looking for his first win on the European Tour, so this was unchartered territory for him and he hit a horrible approach to the sixth and dropped a shot. Dunne was putting serious pressure on himself by missing a succession of fairways. He has a wonderful short game and was forced to hole another six-footer to save par at the sixth. He nearly drove the 377-yard seventh hole to set himself up for a birdie but he hit a dreadful pitch and this time he missed the putt.

England’s Andy Sullivan was making a move of his own. He started the tournament with a round of 75 and it seemed certain that he was in for a short week but he made the cut with a second round of 63 and followed it with a 65 on Saturday. And it continued in the final round, birdies at the first, seventh and eighth taking him to 15 under, alongside Brett Rumford, of Australia. Sullivan had played himself right back into it. Rumford did himself no favours when he dumped his tee shot into the water at the par-three ninth hole and walked off with a five, leaving Sullivan alone in fifth place.

Rahm made his first mistake of the day when he dropped a shot at the ninth to go out in 34 and fall back into a three-way tie for the lead with Dunne and Elvira. He tends to get a little hot under the collar when he makes mistakes and was countering impressively to all and sundry as he made his way to the 10th tee, a par five where he made another birdie after holing his chip.

Plenty of short putts were being missed. It was hardly surprising since the Centro Nacional de Golf Club in Madrid only knew they were staging the event around eight weeks ago and they struggled to get the course in shape, with lots of bumps on the greens. It mean that three- and four-foot putts were a genuine trial.

Sullivan’s chances of victory appeared to have disappeared, along with his ball, when he found the water at the 12th.

It was important for Dunne to emulate Rahm’s birdie at the 10th and he did so to join the Spaniard at 18 under. The pair were one ahead of Elvira, who was holding himself together really well. He knows how to win, having enjoyed four victories on the Challenge Tour, but this was and is a very different matter. Victories on the European Tour change lives. Dunne found big trouble at the 11th with his second shot and left himself with a 10-footer for par and this time he could not make it.  Rahm almost drove the par-four 13th but then hit a really poor chip. However, in went the 20-foot birdie putt and, all of a sudden, he was two ahead on 19 under.

Moments later he had company after Elvira birdied the 13th and 14th. And Dunne’s challenge came to an end when he bogeyed the 14th to fall three back – it was all caused by yet another wayward drive. And to make matters worse, he had been warned for slow play.

So the crowd had what they wanted – two Spaniards in a ding-dong battle for their national title. Who would blink first? Dunne is nothing if not a battler, however, and ust when you thought he was done and dusted, back he came with a birdie at the 15th. Two behind with three holes left.

Most onlookers would have expected Elvira to be the first to falter but he hit a glorious shot into the 16th, only to narrowly miss the birdie putt. Instead it was Rahm, who nearly found the water at the 17th, but managed to salvage his par after a remarkable up and down.

The 18th is a par five and it seemed certain this was the hole where the tournament would be decided, especially with water in play once again. Rahm rose to the challenge by smashing his drive 350 yards into the centre of the fairway. Take that! And moments later Elvira boarded the tee at the par-three 17th and, needing the shot of his life, pulled his tee shot into the water. He came within a whisker of holing his third and then missed a tiddler to drop two shots.

Up ahead, Rahm two-putted for a birdie, a round of 67 and a 72-hole total of 268, 20 under par. It meant that Dunne or Elvira had to hole their second shots to force a playoff and, of course, neither player could achieve it, but Elvira enjoyed the moment, walking down the fairway while holding the Spanish flag with his caddie.

One performance worth a special mention came from Henric Sturehed, of Sweden. Before this week he had played six tournaments on the European Tour, had missed the cut every time and had not earned a bean. A birdie on the last gave him a share of fifth place and could just transform his season.


WELL that wasn’t meant to happen. Satoshi Kodaira, a 28-year-old Japanese golfer who began the RBC Heritage Classic at Harbour Town without any standing on the PGA Tour, took advantage of a final-round collapse by Ian Poulter and a meltdown on the greens by Si Woo Kim to win in a playoff and change his life forever. Kodaira won on the third extra hole after holing a 25-foot birdie putt and with his victory comes tour membership and a full two-year exemption, along with entry to the money-spinning FedEx Cup playoffs and everything that comes with it.

Poulter finally ran out of steam as he came up short in his bid to record his second victory on the PGA Tour in three starts. The 42-year-old Englishman has enjoyed an extraordinary run of form in recent weeks but this was his sixth successive tournament and he admitted before starting that he was feeling the pace. He reached the quarter-finals of the WGC Dell Technologies World Matchplay Championship, won the Houston Open and played all four rounds in The Masters. He could have been forgiven for withdrawing from this tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links in South Carolina but decided to play.

And after rounds of 69, 64 and 67 he found himself going into the last day with a one-shot lead over 22-year-old Kim, of South Korea, and America’s Luke List. Kim birdie the second, fifth and ninth holes and with Poulter playing the front nine in one under and dropping a shot at the 10th, it was the South Korean who led Poulter and List by two.

The start times were brought forward because of a tornado warning, and the field faced a race against time to get finished before the storm arrived. Harbour Town is not one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour but it is one of the more testing layouts these guys face, with tight tree-lined fairways and small greens. It is a course that has always favoured shotmakers over bombers, which is one of the reasons that Luke Donald has finished second on five occasions.

Kim hit a poor approach to the par-four 11th and was unable to rescue his par and fell back to 14 under par. He now led Poulter, List and Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira by one shot.

A serious turning point arrived at the 13th. List tmissed the green to the left with his second, leaving himself a delicate pitch over a greenside bunker. He failed to clear the sand and his ball struck the wooden sleepers in the bunker and rebounded to the back of the trap. From there he somehow managed to get the ball out to around eight feet and holed it to drop just one shot. Poulter missed the fairway and left his approach fully 60 feet from the hole and left his first putt nine feet short and was unable to save his par.

Kim, playing with List and Poulter, found the centre of the fairway and then hit a magnificent approach to six feet but his birdie try was woeful. Nonetheless, he had extended his lead on his playing partners to two shots.

Poulter’s challenge seemed to have come off the rails entirely at the very next hole when he pulled out an eight iron and looked on in disbelief as his tee shot to the par three finished in the water guarding the putting surface. His third finished eight feet away and this was one he had to hole, and duly did for a bogey that took him back to 11 under. List missed the green and left himself a horrible position but he played a splendid pitch to give himself a chance to rescue his par. However, he was unable to make it and joined Poulter after what was his third dropped shot in four holes. Kim parred the hole. He was 14 under, two ahead of Kodaira, a six-time winner on the Japanese Tour.

Bryson DeChambeau was safely in the clubhouse on 11 under par after a final round of 66, and you can be sure that he had been advised not to go anywhere, especially as the wind speed was starting to increase. He was finally overtaken by Kodaira, who matched his 66 and finished on 12 under to set the target.

The 15th is a rare birdie opportunity, a par five measuring 575 yards but out of range in two for Poulter. Not for List though, who hit the green with a five iron to give himself an outside chance for an eagle. Kim also had a rip and missed the green to the right. But he hit a dreadful chip and took three putts to drop a shot and fall back to 13 under. List was one behind after a birdie but he gave it straight back at the next, as did Poulter, who three-putted the 16th for his fourth bogey of the back nine after having played 46 holes without a single dropped shot. Kim, meanwhile, hit yet another fantastic iron shot to the 16th green and yet again he was unable to convert.

The 17th is a par three that measures just 176 yards but had played as one of the most difficult holes on the course. There is water to the left, sand to the right and the green is narrow. To add to the difficulty, the wind is always extremely difficult to pick out. Players feel nothing from the tee. Kim was up first and somehow finished on the upslope of the bunker to the right, while List finished in the heart of the bunker. Both men hit terrific recoveries, with Kim’s ball rolling over the hole. Incredibly, Kim missed yet another short putt and fell back to 12 under to tie with Kodaira, who could hardly believe his luck. List saved his par and went to the 18th needing a birdie to get to 12 under.

Poulter’s round continued to unravel with a fifth bogey in eight holes to finished in a tie for seventh place. He just wanted to get off the course and head home.

Kim required a par at the last to force a playoff, a birdie to win, and his second shot was sensational but, wouldn’t you just know it, it left him with yet another putt from about six feet to win. And it probably didn’t help that List also hit a sparkling approach. If he holed his putt first, would Kim be able to force the ball home? But List’s putt slid by. Now it was all down to Kim and yet again he missed. He shot a 71 that could and should have been at least four better. He had missed short putts on the 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes and now he had to face a playoff.

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