Jon Rahm's Love of Ireland Continues With Incredible Weekend at Lahinch
Jon Rahm produced a sensational back nine to spread-eagle the field and win the Irish Open at Lahinch for the second time in his still fledgling career. The Spaniard appeared to be making up the numbers, even when he reached the turn in 31, three under par, but he caught fire on the back nine, coming home in 31 for a sensational round of 62. It gave him a winning total of 264, 16 under par after starting the day five shots off the lead.
He birdied the second, fifth, seventh and ninth holes to offset a dropped shot at the third, but nobody could have foreseen the run that was about to follow. There was a bogey at the 13th but the rest was fantasy golf. Rahm birdied the 10th, 14th, 15th and 17th and also threw in an eagle three at the par-five 12th for good measure and by the time he strolled to the 18th tee he led 54-hole leader Robert Rock by two shots.
The final hole wasn’t pretty. He went way left with his drive at the par five, then short and right with his second. It meant he faced a tricky 75-yard pitch with a bunker between himself and the flag. It was a thoroughly unappetising prospect from a poor lie in the rough. He did well to get the ball to 25 feet but ran the ball three feet beyond the cup but holed the putt for a par.
Behind him, Rock was struggling to find fairways but was scrambling brilliantly as he attempted to end a winless drought that went all the way back to the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2012. Rock began the week in 147th place in the Race to Dubai, with his world ranking standing at 333rd. He has been in the wilderness for several years.
His last realistic chance of victory disappeared at the 15th. He hit a three wood from the tee but went miles right and found a shocking lie. A wild slash at the ball somehow propelled the ball to the edge of the green but he hit a poor chip, dropped a shot and found himself trailing Rahm by three strokes. He was now tied for second place with Andy Sullivan and a resurgent Bernd Wiesberger.
He parred the 16th and now needed to finish with a birdie and an eagle. He hit a superb approach at the 17th, leaving himself with a straightforward 15-foot putt. He had to make it, but it slid by the hole. The title was now Rahm’s. Rock had by now been overtaken by Wiesberger.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, of Spain, had looked like he might challenge for the title but his chances also came undone on the back nine. He began the day on 12 under par and three birdies in his opening five holes improved him to 15 under. But then it all began to unravel. Yes, he did birdie the 12th hole. Unfortunately, the Spaniard dropped shots at the 10th, 11th, 13th and 15th holes. He birdied the final hole to finish in tie for fourth with Rock and Eddie Pepperell.
There were several encouraging performances before a sell-out crowd in Ireland. Martin Kaymer continued his resurgence, a final round of 65 seeing him finish the week on 11 under. It surely won’t be long before the German, a two-time major champion, is winning tournaments again. Oliver Wilson also had another good week. No golfer has suffered highs and lows in the manner of the Englishman. He won twice on the Challenge Tour last year and it seems to have finally transformed him.
Paul Waring finished on 12 under par and claimed one of the last remaining spots for The Open at Royal Portrush. And he was thrilled. “It is fantastic to claim one of the spots for The Open Championship, especially by making a birdie at the last to do so,” he said. “I was watching the leaderboard and had a good idea what I had to do. The crowds in Ireland are fantastic and I think they will be unbelievable at Royal Portrush. I have been playing well and felt that if I gave myself a chance then I could get into The Open by grabbing one of these qualifying spots.”
Wiesberger, now fully recovered from a wrist injury, won the Made in Denmark and his 14-under-par finish also saw him join the field for Portrush. Minutes later he was joined by Andy Sullivan.
“My goal starting the week was to get into the field at Portrush,” said Wiesberger. “I had a lot of time to reflect when I was injured and have worked hard on my mental game. It’s a good feeling to see my name on leaderboards again."
Rock came to the 18th hole requiring an albatross to catch Rahm. More realistically, he needed a birdie to join Wiesberger and Sullivan in a tie for second, an eagle to finish runner-up on his own. He missed the fairway again and, 269 yards from the hole, found his ball settled down in the rough. It summed up his day. And when he came up 80 yards short of the green, Rahm was confirmed as champion. Rock had to settle for a par and a final round of 70. He finished don 13 under par but qualified for The Open and will go away from this tournament with the memory of a sensational third round of 60.
Rahm is still only 24 years old. This was his fourth European Tour victory to go with the three he has enjoyed on the PGA Tour. He is a Ryder Cup player, in the top 10 in the world rankings and now leads the Race to Dubai.
He began the weekend seven shots behind. “I love this tournament, I love the people,” he said. “I was struggling the first two rounds but over the weekend the putts started to drop. The eagle at the 12th really got me going. My target was to reach 15 under, and I knew it would give me a good shot. Seve Ballesteros is the only other Spaniard to have won this twice, so it is very special. The crowd were great and you feed off it and their enthusiasm. When I got to the 14th I was tied for the lead and I really didn’t expect it.
“I am excited to be heading to Northern Ireland for The Open with a lot of good memories and I know that I will have plenty of support from the crowd. I am really looking forward to it.”
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