Jon Rahm moves five clear to close in on title defence in Open de Espana

Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm

Rory McIlroy may well be right. Maybe courses on the European Tour are set up too easy. Maybe that is to the detriment of the circuit. Maybe the PGA Tour is better not just because it is richer, but because the courses and their set-ups are superior, too.

But as Jon Rahm Rodriguez ramrodded his way to a third-round 63 at the Open de Espana, covering the back-nine in just 28 shots, it was difficult not to wonder what exactly anyone can do to stop this sort of performance from this sort of player.

Line the fairways with trees, perch the flags on shelves, encourage a troupe of flamenco dancers to make merry on the greens, threaten Rahm with exile on the Korean Tour if he so much as frowns... none of it would have worked on Saturday, as golf's biggest bully made a prestigious national championship look like a computer game to which only he had the cheat codes.

This was as good as modern golf gets - driver, wedge, putt, repeat - and as we're decades past the point at which the technology accelerated past the turf, only a temporary pause in the effects of gravity would have kept Rahm's golf ball above ground for a moment longer than he intended.

The result is that he will surely now win the Open de Espana for a second time, defending the title he won last spring. It will be the first time in his burgeoning career that this enormous talent has won successive editions of any tournament, and it should leave us all prepared if not quite expectant of more firsts: this year, a European Tour money list; next year, a major.

Rahm's victory, when it comes, will see him usurp Shane Lowry at the top of the Race To Dubai standings. Whether he remains there when they meet in Dubai, or China before that, remains to be seen - Lowry is playing well and heads to a valuable event in Italy next week - but on this evidence, Rahm will simply win in Dubai or win in China or win both should he need to do so to be crowned Europe's number one.

If that seems a little reactionary, then consider this: at the age of 24, Rahm is closing in on his fifth European Tour title, having played in 14 European Tour events outside of the majors. It is a strike-rate so sensational as to appear unsustainable, yet ever since bursting on the scene, Rahm has done things which encourage us all to reconsider what may or may not be possible.

This event was always likely to prove at his mercy - only Sergio Garcia could claim to be as talented, and Rahm has long taken over as the best Spanish player in the world. It was a particularly weak renewal of a longstanding event, and some will argue that anything but contending would've represented underperformance.

Yet what happened at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid over the course of 90 or so minutes of the third round was not about Rahm versus anyone, but Rahm versus a golf course which was dizzied and dazed by the time his approach shot to the 16th dispensed with some unnecessary dance around the hole and instead decamped inside it.

"I've never teed off with such a lead," Rahm said afterwards, reflecting on a round which didn't even require a particularly hot hand on the greens. Asked then to discuss his situation - a five-shot lead, the biggest of his career so far - Rahm replied, simply, "I don't know what the challenge is going to be."

Neither do I.

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