Spain’s Jon Rahm is excited about his Open Championship prospects after overturning a five-shot deficit with a brilliant 62 to claim his second Dubai Duty Free Irish Open title in three years.
Rahm fired an eagle, eight birdies and two bogeys at Lahinch to finish 16 under par, two shots clear of England’s Andy Sullivan and Bernd Wiesberger, with overnight leader Robert Rock, Eddie Pepperell and Rafa Cabrera Bello a stroke further back.
Wiesberger, Rock and Paul Waring will join Rahm in the field for the year’s final major at Royal Portrush after securing the three qualifying places on offer, Waring making a crucial birdie on the 18th to finish joint seventh and edge out former world number one Martin Kaymer.
Rahm, who stayed in Portrush when he won the 2017 Irish Open at nearby Portstewart, said: “I’m going to go to Portrush with a lot of good memories and good vibes. I’m going to have huge support from the crowd and hopefully I can keep my good golf going into Northern Ireland.
“I can’t wait to go to Portrush and visit the Harbour Bistro like I did every single night like I was there. I’m sure I’ll see a lot of people again and hopefully enjoy the week and play the best Open I’ve played so far.
“I’m going into the Open Championship with a lot of confidence. It’s the only major I haven’t had a good performance at and I want to.”
Cabrera Bello began the day a shot behind Rock but surged into a three-shot lead with three birdies in the first five holes, only to start the back nine with four bogeys in six holes as Rahm piled on the pressure.
After covering the front nine in 31, Rahm birdied the 10th and holed from 25 feet for an eagle on the 12th, before recovering from a bogey on the next with birdies on the 14th, 15th and 17th.
“I keep saying I love this tournament, I love the country, I love the people,” added Rahm, who played the last 27 holes in 14 under after a back nine of 30 in his 64 on Saturday. “I feel like I’m at home every time I come here.
“I knew I had to do something amazing today to have a chance and that eagle on 12 got me going. The difficult part was after 13. It would have been really easy to get derailed and lose focus, but luckily I had a long walk from 13 to 14 and the crowd was just being tremendous.
“When I got to the tee, I was right back in it. I hit a good tee shot, a great second shot and when I got to the green, before I even see where the ball is at, I see I’m tied for the lead. That was a huge confidence boost.
“My target was 15 under and I never thought I’d get to 16 under without a birdie on the last, but I’m definitely thrilled with the back nine.
“I think Seve (Ballesteros) is the only Spanish player to have won this event more than once so it’s very special to add my name to the trophy again.”
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Italy’s Andrea Pavan claimed his second European Tour title by beating England’s Matt Fitzpatrick in a play-off in the BMW International Open.
Pavan birdied the second extra hole after both players had finished tied on 15 under par, two shots ahead of a seven-strong group including overnight leader Jordan Smith and defending champion Matt Wallace.
Fitzpatrick enjoyed a massive stroke of luck on the first play-off hole when his approach from 285 yards somehow plugged on a downslope just inches from a water hazard, but a poor pitch meant he could only match Pavan’s par.
The players returned to the par-five 18th and, after Pavan hit a superb third shot from the rough to tap-in range, Fitzpatrick mishit his bunker shot and could not hole a lengthy birdie attempt.
Pavan had set the clubhouse target after a flawless closing 66 and looked on as Fitzpatrick had an eagle putt to win on the 72nd hole, only to leave it short.
Wallace also needed to birdie the last to match Pavan’s total but found the water twice and did well to salvage a bogey six.
“It’s amazing to be honest,” Pavan told Sky Sports. “I thought I had a chance starting the day. I was playing very well coming into the week and just hit a few bad drives, it’s always a little bit my Achilles heel.
“This hole (18th) is not the best for me without driver but I managed to make birdie and it’s been amazing.
“I was in a play-off in qualifying for the US Open with five guys for one spot and I three-putted the first and then you go home with nothing.
“Here at least the worst you finish is second but it’s very satisfying to get the win, it’s so hard, so difficult.”
Fitzpatrick admitted he is enduring a difficult season and was frustrated not to get over the line in Munich.
“It’s disappointing. (I have) been playing well. Obviously that showed coming here, and getting into a playoff, which has been great,” Fitzpatrick told the European Tour.
“It’s a good week overall, but yeah, disappointed not to top it off. Had a bit of a look the first playoff hole, but yeah, it’s just been a tough season so far, really. Not holing the putts. Missed a chance on 16 there – didn’t hole it.”
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Waking up at his home in Arizona this morning, Phil Mickelson must be wondering whether he is destined never to lift the one title he has always craved above all others.
With a T52 finish at Pebble Beach on Sunday, it proved to be another year without a US Open crown for ‘Lefty’. A disappointing result for a man many thought would threaten Brooks Koepka and Co at the top of the leaderboard.
His victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February – his fifth at the venue – had fans believing this could be the perfect course for Mickelson to become just the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam.
But he failed to fire for much of the weekend and one wonders whether it was his last best chance to complete the elusive set of majors.
When he came out for his third round on Saturday, he was two-under par and looking confident with his iron play. But instead of continuing his calm and confident approach, he capitulated on the back nine, firing a disastrous five-over, including a triple bogey at the par-5 18th.
For his 49th birthday on the final day, the five-time major winner was welcomed with a loud chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, but could only manage a one-over 72 to finish seventeen shots behind eventual winner Gary Woodland on four-over par.
A tie for 52nd was hardly a dream birthday present for the six-time runner-up, but the American fans still clapped him off like he’d won the tournament.
It was the 29th time that Mickelson walked away without the US Open trophy on Sunday. He’s already older than any major winner and four years older than any other US Open champion – Hale Irwin being the oldest winner at 45 in 1990.
If he couldn’t be in the hunt on Pebble, a course where he has shone over the years, it’s hard to imagine he will be better in future championships.
Mickelson himself knows as well as anyone that time is running out. But it’s tough to admit defeat, especially for someone who is always going to show confidence and keep trying instead of running away and giving up.
When thinking back to 2006 at Winged Foot, Mickelson must wince in his rocking chair when he remembers how close he could have been. Needing only a par on the 18th to secure victory, he struck a reckless tee shot and ended up firing a six to lose by one shot.
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Mickelson’s the people’s champion at every tournament. The fans come out in force to see him. They sing, they chant, they play every hole with him. If he birdies, they cheer. If he bogeys, they wince in pain.
Everyone wants to see him win.
And after nearly three decades attempting to capture the US Open title, that last remaining chance is wilting away like leaves blowing away in the Autumn wind, especially with the average age of a player winning a major now 32-years-old.
The next courses on the US Open schedule will be Winged Foot, Brookline and Pinehurst – each beautiful, but longer and tougher than Pebble Beach.
Some say Winged Foot might be Mickelson’s last big opportunity to tread where very few have done before, and be considered one of the great golfers of all time. He is already, but Winged Foot, starting two days after his 50th birthday, will be the next last best chance to win that elusive career grand slam.