DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | There are all sorts of ways to win a golf tournament and Jon Rahm took the flamboyant, storybook way to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the last event of the European Tour’s season.
Having just wobbled with a three-putt and having seen a six-stroke lead at one point shrunk to one stroke, Rahm, 25, used the words of Jack Nicklaus in the 1966 Open at Muirfield to inspire himself to play the last three holes in such courageous and skilful fashion that he would win the tournament.
“I told myself, I had heard Jack Nicklaus talk about it, about his win in the Open at Muirfield,” Rahm said. “He said he was on the 16th and said to himself, ‘If you finish 3-4-4, you win the tournament.’ I told myself before I hit my tee shot on the 16th, if you finish 4-3-3, you win the golf tournament no matter what else anybody else does. I played three really solid holes with a birdie on 18.”
He was 19-under par for his four rounds, which is pretty good scoring around the difficult Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, and was one stroke better than the total of Tommy Fleetwood, the Englishman, and two better than Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who had shared the lead with Rahm overnight. This victory won Rahm $3 million, the richest first prize in tournament golf.
Rahm had done it with an enviable speed – he doesn’t hang around on a golf course – and in storybook style. He knew he needed a birdie up the last, a par-5 that was comfortably within reach, to avoid being in a playoff with Fleetwood.
Rahm’s second shot plopped into a greenside bunker almost exactly pin high. “I had about 10 feet of green on which to land my ball,” Rahm said. “I had a really good lie. As I stood over the ball I really focused on it. I was as calm as I can honestly be. Maybe not as calm as somebody else would be. Maybe calm is not the word but confident. In myself. My heart was probably still beating really, really fast but I was relaxed.”
He quickly assessed the situation, played a delicate explosion shot to perhaps 5 feet and then, with a lot of money riding on it and thousands of pairs of eyes trained on him from grandstands and all sorts of surrounding eyries, he holed the putt.
When this victory was added to his steady performances during the season, which included two other victories, it also made him winner of the Race to Dubai, the season-long points competition, thereby earning him a $2 million bonus. So as Rahm walked off the 18th green with a big smile on a face burned by the sun he was approximately $5 million richer than when he had stepped on to the first tee, four hours earlier. He might not have known it at that moment but victory in the tournament was projected to move him from fifth to third in the world ranking. Little wonder he had just raised his arms high above his head and punched the air and was holding hands with Kelley Cahill, his fiancée.
Fleetwood put in what only can be described as a startling finish in an attempt to snatch a second victory in seven days on two continents. Fleetwood had five birdies in his last seven holes, four of them in his last five, including the last two, on the way to 65. On those holes he looked inspired. That sort of play put the pressure firmly on Rahm. “I am proud of the way I played,” Fleetwood said. “I couldn’t have done much more last week and this. I am proud of my season. Fair play to Jon, that was a cracking birdie on the last hole.”
Rahm became only the second Spaniard after Seve Ballesteros to win the Harry Vardon Trophy awarded to the Race to Dubai winner (and formerly to the Order of Merit winner).
“I’ve thought about it all week but I still haven’t processed it,” Rahm said. “It is really hard to believe that some of the greatest champions in European and Spanish golf haven’t been able to accomplish what I have in just three years. That’s what I can’t get my mind around. I can put it into words but it doesn’t sound true. It is hard to believe.”
RESULTS | RACE TO DUBAI