DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Of the two leading protagonists after three rounds of the DP World Tour Championship, there is no difficulty in telling Jon Rahm from Matthew Fitzpatrick. Where Tiger Woods prowls and Rory McIlroy bounces jauntily, Rahm moves around a golf course with the walk of a cowboy who has just won a gunfight. He has the shoulders of an ox, a beard which, were it not so well-trimmed, would be biblical and more than a hint of a fiery, if not volcanic, temper. Heaven help you if you’re in his way as he leaves a green after three-putting or missing a short putt. He may be Spanish, but he swears in Anglo-Saxon.
Fitzpatrick, the shorter and definitely the slighter of the two, walks quickly and purposefully, with his head up when he is playing well as he did to capture the U.S. Open at Brookline in June. And as he was when he won this tournament twice before in 2016 and 2020. Sometimes, though, the Englishman can look hangdog if his golf is off-key. At times like that, he resembles a diffident schoolboy, as though he doesn’t really believe he has the right to be where he is.
And so the two of them began the final round on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates on another cloudless afternoon. Both had their eyes on prizes. Rahm wanted to win this event for a third time in four appearances and went on to do so with a powerful 67 that not only took him to 20-under-par but offered little opportunity to his challengers.
“I feel like it gets to a point where your play should start to be rewarded. I’ll say one more time, we don’t get the same points for our win here. It’s a bit of a joke.”
Rahm's swing is short and fast, almost a whiplash, and generates considerable power. You often hear golfers imploring their ball to “go, go.” More often than most, Rahm says “stop, stop” or “oh, come back.” His swing is unusual in that the follow through is longer than his backswing. It may not be as elegant or smooth as Rory McIlroy’s, for example, but no one dare say it is anything other than hugely effective.
Fitzpatrick’s swing, on the other hand, which had been so firm and sound for three rounds deserted him in the fourth. A 73 was three strokes worse than his previous highest of the week and eight strokes more than his score in the opening round. Despite a sore throat that left him with a gravelly voice, he had begun the tournament with a run of five successive birdies. On Sunday, he began one stroke behind Rahm on 14-under-par, and finished it seven strokes behind.
This was not the golf of a U.S. Open champion. His pitch to the 10th ended 20 yards short of the green, never mind the flagstick. On the 11th and 12th, he left putts short of the hole. Events on the 13th told the story of the day. Rahm’s 30-footer almost completely circled the hole before disappearing for his fifth birdie of the round. Fitzpatrick’s putt from almost the same distance never looked like going into the hole and concluded a run of six holes in which he was 4-over-par.
So ended a week for Rahm that had begun with him loudly criticising the workings of the Official World Golf Ranking. He didn’t mince his words. “I think the OWGR is laughable,” he said, and in this criticism if not the language he was joined by McIlroy and other leading players.
“The system needs to be fixed,” Paul McGinley said. “And it will be. It is too mathematically based at the moment. It needs to include a little humanity.”
Rahm returned to the issue of world rankings after he had won and after it was pointed out that for him to be ranked fifth in the world was hardly an accurate representation of his form. “I don’t know if I can add any more to what I said,” he explained. “Maybe I was too far back, I don’t know. I’ve gone second, first, fourth, second – first, sorry – and I have not changed my world ranking. I don’t know if that explains what I meant the other day, but it should.