By Mathieu Wood
With his two-shot victory over Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren 12 months ago at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, the Spaniard won the tournament for a third time in four starts.
A remarkable feat when you think of the calibre of player who contest the DP World Tour’s season-ending event on the Earth Course.
Ever since winning three titles worldwide in 2017 – his first full year as a professional – Rahm has set a high bar for what he can achieve.
As such, it is perhaps only for that reason that some questioned his play following a spectacular 2021 in which he won his first Major Championship and topped the world rankings for half a year.
Even still, three worldwide wins – each in a different continent – last year was hardly a bad showing.
After wins in Mexico on the PGA TOUR and at the Open de España on the DP World Tour, which saw him match Seve Ballesteros’ haul of three national Opens, Rahm carried across his momentum from Dubai into 2023.
In his first five PGA TOUR starts of the new year, he won three times. The latter of those at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles saw him return to World Number One.
With his victory at Riviera Country Club, he drew comparisons to 15-time Major Champion Tiger Woods from Max Homa.
"I would say other than Tiger, he's the most consistent player I've seen,” said Homa, who finished runner-up to the Spaniard.
“I've known him since college and he's been like this since then, number one amateur in the world, number one player in the world, all the accolades."
But in a sport where Majors are what define careers, Rahm knew adding a second to his 2021 U.S. Open triumph was his biggest objective. He said as much himself last year as he reflected on what needed to improve.
“Definitely play better in the Majors,” he said. “I've won one. I want to get the second one for sure.”
Well, that is exactly what Rahm achieved when the first Major of 2023 came around. On what would have been his hero Ballesteros’ 66th birthday, he claimed his first Green Jacket.
After starting with a four-putt double-bogey on the opening hole of the first round, Rahm produced a brilliant performance from then on as he stormed to a four-shot win at Augusta National.
Testament to his standing in golf, his triumph was warmly received by both his peers and greats of the game who have long since retired.
A fourth trophy of the calendar year was tantalisingly close as he finished runner-up on his title defence in Mexico, and went on to shoot the 40th 63 in Major history and first at Royal Liverpool Golf Club as he finished in a tie for second behind Brian Harman at the 151st Open.
But it is perhaps his performance for Team Europe at the Ryder Cup – two weeks after coming fourth at the BMW PGA Championship – that suggests another victory is on the horizon.
Across his four matches at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, Rahm went unbeaten as he delivered three points for Captain Luke Donald to help Team Europe regain the trophy.
In draining a long eagle putt on the final green to tie his fourballs match alongside Nicolai Højgaard, the Spaniard helped preserve the momentum Europe had built over the opening day’s play.
After teaming up with Hatton to win for the second day running in the foursomes, Rahm would close out his campaign with a half point in a high-quality encounter with World Number One Scottie Scheffler.
As he arrives in Dubai once again, the statistics behind Rahm’s enviable record at the Earth Course are undeniable.
Across his 16 rounds at the DP World Tour Championship, his scoring average is 67.5 and he is 72 under par for the 288 holes he has played on the Earth Course. No wonder he has proven a class above the rest more often than not when he has teed it up.
Summarising why he has such a stellar record at the venue, Rahm stated. “I like this course and this course likes me.”
While some of his fellow players must be asking if only it was that simple, it is reflective of Rahm’s champion status and ability to produce on the biggest stages.