PORTSTEWART, United Kingdom: Jon Rahm fired a stunning seven-under-par final round of 65 to cruise to a six-shot victory in the Irish Open at Portstewart on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
The Spaniard avoided the threat of a two-stroke penalty on his way to joining the greats of Spanish golf, including the late Seve Ballesteros, in winning the tournament.
The 22-year-old Rahm was in a class of his own with two eagles and five birdies on the day as he finished on 24 under par overall.
His effort is a new tournament record and three strokes less than the previous mark that stood for 42 years.
But that was after Rahm was deemed not to have breached the rules in remarking his ball on the sixth green after first moving his marker out of the line of playing partner Daniel Im.
Under new rules introduced after the controversy following the much-publicised penalty for Lexi Thompson at the women’s ANA Inspiration in April, he was afforded the benefit of the doubt.
“I thought I had put my ball back in the same spot,” he said.
“When Andy (McFee, Tour Chief Referee) came back and explained to me what happened, I said I normally mark my ball on the side in that circumstance and I thought I put it back on the same spot.
“I think that I knew I was conscious I did that, and that helped with the ruling.”
Since the Thompson incident and the Dustin Johnson saga at last year’s US Open, players are now being given the benefit of the doubt if there is no clear intention to gain an advantage.
Rahm is the fourth Spanish winner in the 90-year history of the event, joining Ballesteros (1983, 1985 & 1986), Jose Maria Olazabal (1990) and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia (1999).
Like Garcia, it is Rahm’s first European Tour victory.
Rahm, also a first-time winner earlier this year on the PGA Tour, sealed victory in steady rain on the Northern Irish coastline on just his eighth official European Tour start but just his second on European soil.
He will also rise from 11th to eighth in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“That makes two for two wins shooting a final round 65,” said Rahm, referring to his same winning score at Torrey Pines in February, when he also carded two eagles, including one on the 72nd green to win.
“But then it is a very different tournament here for me. I have been saying I have not played my best golf, and today, for 15 holes, I played my best golf I can ever play on the golf course with the weather we had.”
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and England’s Matthew Southgate shared second place at 18 under to secure spots for the British Open, which starts on July 20.
And joining the duo at Royal Birkdale will be New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, who finished in a four-way tie for fourth with Scot David Drysdale, who shot a new course record 63, England’s Justin Rose and American Im.
However with Rose already qualified, Fox secured the third and final spot by virtue of his higher world ranking.