With the European Tour revealing that it is considering plans to resurrect the Seve Trophy, Jon Rahm has vowed to make his own tribute to his legendary countryman on Sunday.
On 15 under, the 25 year old is sharing the DP World Tour Championship lead with Mike Lorenzo-Vera and with respect to the Frenchman and indeed to Rory McIlroy, two shots away in third, Rahm is the odds-on favourite to win this event for the second time in three years.
A fourth title of the season would also mean he finishes the campaign on top of the Race to Dubai and so add his name to the illustrious Harry Vardon Trophy. And despite there being a $5 million bounty on offer ($3 million for the tournament, $2 million for the order of merit), the opportunity to emulate his nation’s hero is what will be driving Rahm.
“It gives me goosebumps to think about that,” Rahm said, following a brilliant 66 featuring seven birdies and one bogey. “As a Spaniard, when you can put your name on a list on which there’s only one other Spanish name, and that name is Seve, is pretty impactful and really emotional. Not even Jose Maria [Olazabal] or Sergio [Garcia] or Miguel Angel [Jimenez] could get it done. It’s hard to believe that I have the chance to be only the second…”
Rahm is aware he could come in outright second and still join Ballesteros in that exclusive club. However, in that scenario he would need Tommy Fleetwood to finish behind him and Bernd Wiesberger to finish worse than in a two-way tie for fifth. Fleetwood is in fourth on 11 under and Wiesberger struggling in a tie for 24th on two under following a nervy 73, so that permutation could well transpire. Except Rahm, a fiery character, is not the type to play for anything else but first and neither is he a great mathematician. “If I win that makes the maths so much the simpler,” he said, with a grin.
It will be easy for some to dismiss Lorenzo-Vera’s candidature. The 34-year-old has not won in 193 starts on tour and has a woeful record when in contention on Sundays. Yet, there is something about the Basque this week that suggests he is ready to leave all that baggage behind.
In Friday’s second round, he outscored playing partner McIlroy 69 to 74 and on Saturday he again put the higher-ranked golfer in his place when posting a 69 alongside Fleetwood’s 70. Lorenzo-Vera retained an advantage on the leaderboard all afternoon until a bogey on the 18th. When asked live on Sky Sports about that concluding six, he was, at the very least, honest. “Yeah, we f----- up a bit on the 18th tee, that was not driver,” he said.
When Tim Barter, the Sky interviewer, apologised for the bad language to the viewers, Lorenzo-Vera looked perplexed. “I’m sorry, but I’m French,” he replied. “I am still learning.” Will Sunday be yet another stage in his education?
McIlroy will clearly be the fancy of many after his beautifully composed 65, lit up by an eagle and five birdies. The world No 2 has none of the Race To Dubai pressure on his back and when he is unrestricted he is dangerous. And perhaps Fleetwood will feel less burdened by the expectation now he is playing catch-up. His putting let down the rest of his game in his two-under third round, but having come back from six off the pace to prevail last Sunday in Sun City, Fleetwood knows what is possible if his flat-stick obliges.
Fleetwood played in the latest edition of the Seve Trophy in 2013 before the Ryder Cup rehearsal – featuring Great Britain and Ireland versus Continental Europe – made way for the EurAsia Cup between Europe and Asia.
However, the Malaysian government has pulled its backing from the latter and Keith Pelley, the Tour’s chief executive, has indicated the former could reappear on the schedule in 2021.
“I like the Seve Trophy as a concept and I’m told that it was very useful as preparation for the Ryder Cup,” Pelley said. “It is something we might look to bring back before the 2022 match.” If nothing else, the memory of Ballesteros deserves this to happen.