In the third instalment of a new series for europeantour.com, PGA Professional Ian St John selects the standout golfing moment from the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
“The measure of a golfer is not how they act when things go smoothly, but how they act when they are challenged.”
This quote is particularly appropriate to Jon Rahm’s final round performance, where he went from holding a six shot lead to needing a birdie at 18 to triumph.
Because Jon showed a maturity beyond his 25 years to prevail in a nerve-jangling, highly entertaining last day, this week I’ll be focusing on one of the young Spaniard’s final 68 shots for play of the week – along with a remarkable fairway wood from Rory McIlroy.
This week’s contenders are:
1. Rahm’s second shot on the par five, 14th hole:
· A tee shot of 346 yards into the left rough leaves 234 yards to the pin.
· A bogey on the previous hole was his third in six. An unsettling time for the leader.
· “Grass going with him, a lot of help in the air,” comments Sky Sports’ Wayne Riley on the position of the ball. Unquestionably, he has the strength to get to the green.
· Surprisingly, he lays up to 94 yards. This is a perfect lob wedge for Jon (he had a brand new 60-degree wedge in the bag last week).
· He and his caddie Adam have decided to hit a wedge 140 yards from where the ball lies to that lob wedge distance.
· He now has the green light to attack for his third and does so striking the lob wedge to three feet for a simple birdie.
2. Rahm’s approach shot to the par five, 72nd hole:
· Birdie is required for the win.
· Any approach shot left of the green is water bound.
· He had 213 yards uphill, into the breeze that’s also blowing slightly left to right.
· Jon commits to a four iron that lands in the bunker, short and right of the green.
· Jon and Adam knew they would have a straight-forward third, if the approach shot landed there.
· Jon would go ahead and make birdie thanks to a cleverly played bunker shot.
3. McIlroy’s spectacular approach to the par five 18th hole, during the first round:
· Rory stands in the middle of the fairway with the very definition of a “risk vs reward” shot.
· It’s rated as the hardest par five in the United Arab Emirates.
· A water hazard meanders its way diagonally up the 18th fairway to the green, meaning a slightly pulled approach shot will inevitably find the water.
· Rory, at the time, is lying in second place on six under – he knows a blockbuster finish can take him one behind current leader Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
· It's only Thursday. So why not have a go? If it goes wrong, at worst it going to be a bogey and there is still a great chance of making par.
· Play the shot correctly and the message from a psychological point of view is huge not only for himself, but for the rest of the field.
· The wind was off the left so Rory could go straight at the pin and know that if he draws it, it should hold – it’s still a crazy shot though. He needs to carry his three wood 280 yards off the deck.
· Rory does it with aplomb, ripping the fairway metal to five feet and holing the putt for eagle. "Honestly it's possibly the best shot I've hit all year," McIlroy commented afterwards. That says it all.
For the second time in three events, I have decided that the play of the week is a decision to lay up – Rahm’s second shot into the 14th during that phenomenal final day.
Let me explain as the context is crucial…
· When he teed it up on the par five a six shot lead had become three. Oil is beginning to leak, and the other contenders are aware.
· With the flag front right, the chances of getting close for eagle are slim. Birdie is now the goal.
· Taking on the green brings the water on the right and the heavy rough on the left into play.
· Jon and caddie know that an up and down from Jon’s preferred lob wedge distance will leave a high percentage chance of making birdie.
· Jon makes four. From a psychological point of view, it’s a turning point. He is reassured of his capability, while sending a commanding statement to the opposition that he is, in fact, still in control.
As the great Arnold Palmer once said, “success in golf depends less on strength of body more on strength of mind and character.” Rahm showed just how mentally tough he is by stopping the rot to win the event and his first Race to Dubai title, well played Jon.