Jon Rahm sinks $5m putt to hold off challenge of Tommy Fleetwood and win World Tour Championship

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
Jon Rahm only had to make the tense final putt because of his earlier jitters - Getty Images Europe
Jon Rahm only had to make the tense final putt because of his earlier jitters - Getty Images Europe

It all came down to the very last putt. A European Tour campaign featuring 47 tournaments, 31 countries, five continents and so many storylines was left hanging on a five-footer for birdie for Jon Rahm. It was a $5 million moment and when he converted — the ball picking up pace as it covered $1m a foot - Rahm threw back his head and looked to the heavens.

It was easy to dive deep into the emotional treacle in this instant and believe that Rahm was peering up to Seve Ballesteros, the only Spaniard previously to win the Harry Vardon Trophy for the player who tops the season-long order of merit and afterwards the 25-year-old confessed that he had, indeed, been thinking of his nation’s late hero all week.

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Yet, in truth, this was a gesture made more in relief having withstood an outrageous fightback from Tommy Fleetwood. 

After seven holes of this DP World Tour Championship, the Englishman was eight shots behind his Ryder Cup teammate and with Rahm birdieing five of the Earth Course’s first septet, the Englishman was seemingly out of gas following his victory in Sun City the previous Sunday

But showing the same swashbuckling derring-do as in South Africa, when coming from six off the pace in the final round to prevail, so Fleetwood tore into the second nine, birdieing five of the last seven and four of the last five to pull up alongside Rahm, who had earlier been wobbling with back-to-back bogeys on the eighth and ninth and was plagued by the jitters again with further dropped shots on the 13th and 15th. 

And with Rahm’s playing partner, France’s Mike Lorenzo-Vera also in contention, it appeared as if there was bound to be a play-off. Fleetwood was in the clubhouse with an 18-under total courtesy of his stunning 65, and Rahm needed a birdie on the par-five finishing hole to avoid sudden death. Rahm located the bunker with his second and Fleetwood was preparing to go again.

Yet a wonderful splash-out to five feet was followed by that nerveless clincher. Ballesteros would not have recognised the rewards on offer ($3m for the tournament and a $2m bonus for the Race to Dubai), but he would certainly have found the breaking of the tension irresistibly familiar. 

“I've thought about it all week, I’ve thought about it the last two hours, I’ve thought about it as soon as I made the putt - but it still hasn't processed in my mind,” Rahm said, after his 68. “It's really so hard to believe that some of the greatest champions in European golf and Spanish golf haven't been able to accomplish what I have in just three years on Tour. 

<span>Tommy Fleetwood played his way into contention brilliantly but fell just short of a second title in as many weeks</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Tommy Fleetwood played his way into contention brilliantly but fell just short of a second title in as many weeks Credit: AP

“Sergio [Garcia] has been a great Spanish champion for years and is a major winner.  Jose Maria [Olazabal] is a two-time major winner and Miguel Ángel [Jimenez] has done a great job, as well. So many great players throughout the history of Spain that have had a chance and they didn't get it done. It's just hard to put in perspective that since Seve, I'm the next one.”

Rahm moves up to world No 3 and the immediate aim - apart from winning majors, of course - is to become the second Spaniard after, yes, Seve, to top the rankings. 

For Fleetwood is was a bitter-sweet experience, as he came so close to winning his second Race To Dubai in three years. However, the $2.2m he collected ($1m for finishing second in the tournament and $2.2m for coming runner-up in the order of merit) was hefty consolation, especially when put alongside the $2.5m he picked up in Sun City. 

"These two weeks have my season in a different light," said Fleetwood, who finished a shot ahead of Lorenzo-Vera (70), with Rory McIlroy back in fourth on 12-under after a 73. “Fair play to Jon; that’s a cracking birdie down the last when you have to make it. There's always going to be a little bit of disappointment, but I got myself back in it and I am very proud of the way I played on that back nine.”

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