Spain’s Jon Rahm set his sights on winning the Open Championship after storming to a resounding victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, his second win in just his 25th event as a professional.
Rahm fired two eagles and five birdies in a closing 65 at Portstewart Golf Club to finish a tournament-record 24 under par, six shots clear of Richie Ramsay and Matthew Southgate.
David Drysdale, Justin Rose, Ryan Fox and Daniel Im were a shot further back in fourth, with Drysdale completing a brilliant course record of 63 with seven consecutive birdies.
Ramsay, Drysdale and Fox secured the three places available at Royal Birkdale via the Open qualifying series, with Drysdale edging out Im – who bogeyed the final hole – by virtue of his higher world ranking.
Rahm, who began the day tied for the lead with Im, holed out from 150 yards for an eagle on the fourth and added four birdies in a row from the seventh to take command of the event, part of the European Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series.
The biggest danger to the 22-year-old came in the shape of a possible penalty for incorrectly replacing his ball on the sixth green, but after being cleared of any wrongdoing by chief referee Andy McFee on the 13th, Rahm promptly holed from 30ft for an eagle on the next.
Rahm only turned professional in June last year, but claimed his first PGA Tour title at Torrey Pines in January and will climb to a career-high eighth in the updated world rankings.
“The trophy is right next to me and my name is going to be there forever now, but it seems hard to believe that it’s happened,” Rahm said.
“I just look at it and I see Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Seve (Ballesteros). That’s a list of the greatest European Tour players ever and to have my name next to it, and the last one, Rory McIlroy, it’s so special.
“To actually play my best golf that I can remember and shoot 24 under on this golf course and win it by six, that is not something I would have believed I was capable of. I learned a lot about myself and it’s a really, really special day.
“It proves to me I can perform properly on a links golf course and that’s what I’ve got to take to the Open. I know now that I have what it takes.
“I know I can read the putts right, I know I can interpret the wind and I can hit the shots and I can manage myself around the golf course properly enough to have a chance to win the Open.”
Southgate’s share of second was the best finish of his career to date, eclipsing his fourth place in the same event last year.
“After last year I wanted to prove to everybody that it wasn’t a fluke and that I belong out here playing,” said the 28-year-old, who recovered from testicular cancer to secure his European Tour card via the qualifying school in 2015. It looks like it’s going to keep my card for next year, which at this level of golf I think is an incredible achievement for everybody. I’m absolutely thrilled to bits.”
Southgate had already sealed his place in the Open via final qualifying on Tuesday, but Ramsay had forgotten all about it as he chased a fourth European Tour title.
“I knew there were spots, but it had totally gone from my mind,” Ramsay said after a closing 66 that included four birdies and an eagle in the space of seven holes.
“I was that focused on what I was doing, but it’s a massive bonus. It’s a golf course that I know. I’ve played the British Amateur there and it’s one of my favourites to play.
“I’m massively pleased. It was a tough last few weeks, but I’m a big believer that if you work hard, success will come. This year it’s taken a little longer than it should do, but I’ve managed to get there in the end.”
Woodsome Hall’s Chris Hanson fired a six-under-par 66 to climb into a share of 36th spot after opening with rounds of 70 70 72.
Alongside him was Marcus Armitage (Howley Hall) who, after starting with a 71 produced three consecutive rounds of 69.
Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick had begun with a 66, but subsequent scores of 72 72 71 put him down at 54th, 10 places ahead of Malton’s Simon Dyson (68 72 75 70).
Thai 14-year-old Atthaya Thitikul has become the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour after claiming a two-shot victory at the Ladies European Thailand Championship.
The teenage amateur produced a level-par 72 yesterday to finish the week on five under par, two strokes clear of nearest challenger Ana Menendez, of Mexico.
Thitikul had begun her fourth round one shot behind Menendez after posting rounds of 70 71 and 70.