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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Jon Rahm remains man to beat at DP World Tour Championship after steady – but not spectacular – season

Spaniard hopes it is third time lucky for him as he prepares to defend another title he won last season

Jon Rahm arrives at Jumeirah Golf Estates as one of the men to beat.. EPA
Jon Rahm arrives at Jumeirah Golf Estates as one of the men to beat.. EPA

With a couple of decent title defences in the bag this season already, Jon Rahm is hoping his third proves a charm in Dubai.

The Spaniard, ranked eighth in the world, returns to the DP World Tour Championship this week, where last year he delivered a firm endorsement of his undoubted talent by winning on debut.

As such, he arrives at Jumeirah Golf Estates as one of the men to beat. And defending titles clearly sits well with him. When twice attempting to hang onto hardware this campaign, Rahm finished tied-29th at the Farmers Insurance Open and T-4 at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Perhaps, then, third time lucky?

“Hard to improve on what I did last year,” Rahm conceded on Wednesday. “I was able to be defending champion for three events this year. In Torrey [Pines], I played great the first two days, was in the final group, but didn't play great on the weekend.

“In Ireland, I was doing good until that second hole [on Sunday] – a triple-bogey doesn't help – but I still battled back and almost got myself into the play-off. So hopefully, I've gotten close and maybe this progression continues and I'm able to defend this week.”

Overall, his progression has been rapid. Rahm won three times in his first full season as a professional, and in January was within another victory of reaching world No 1.

In 2017 Jon Rahm, left, won the 2017 DP World Tour Championship while Tommy Fleetwood, right, was crowned the Race to Dubai winner. Getty Images
In 2017 Jon Rahm, left, won the 2017 DP World Tour Championship while Tommy Fleetwood, right, was crowned the Race to Dubai winner. Getty Images

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Read more:

DP World Tour Championship: Take a look at the pairings and tee times for the first round

Race to Dubai title at stake but Francesco Molinari 'can't be mad' at Tommy Fleetwood

John McAuley's interview with Jon Rahm: 'I have a sickness … I have a disease for golf'

Organisers 'respect' Rory McIlroy's decision to miss 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic

McIlroy determined to revive 'B-minus' season at the DP World Tour Championship

John McAuley: All you need to know about 2018 DP World Tour Championship

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Understandably, this season has not quite reached those heights, although he still won on the PGA Tour and his national championship in Spain, while he finished in the top four at both the US Masters and US PGA Championship. At the Ryder Cup, also, there was a memorable success against Tiger Woods in the singles, part of Europe's comprehensive triumph in France.

And, as taming the Tiger, not to mention his form in his six previous appearances Rolex Series events, portrays, Rahm is a man for the grand occasion.

“For the most part, when I think about the year, I peak in those events, the ones that matter to me,” Rahm, 24, said. “Clearly I'm doing something right, if I finished top 15 in all of them and won twice, so hopefully I can keep that going this week and have a chance to win again on Sunday.”

Rating his year, Rahm offered that he had taken more satisfaction from his personal life, rather than professional.

“I'm not going to do it based on last year because last year was a 10 out of 10," he said. "For what I set it out to be and how hard it was to live up to expectation, I'll give it a 7.5 out of 10.

“There’s so many things I learned about myself this year. What I’m going to say is it was a year for a lot of personal growth.

"It was a great year to get engaged and start my life. I would say in personal and family-matters way, it was such a great year. I’ll give it a 10 out of 10."

Sunday at the Ryder Cup would probably rank around that, too. Asked for the best moment of his 2&1 win against Woods, Rahm said: “The last putt. But I think the whole experience is my favourite thing.

“I can't point out one moment, since I found out I was playing against him until it was over, the whole series of events and what I had to do to get ready and mentally ready and play good golf.

"And I was so proud of myself the way I conducted and the way I acted and the way I kept myself very balanced throughout the whole round. I can't pick one moment. If I have to say the most special one is right before I stood up to the putt, walking towards it.

"Somebody in the crowd thought it was a great moment to yell, just at the top of their lungs, ‘Do it for Seve’. So, you know, it's not that I did it for him, but to do it in the middle of the process and three seconds be ready…”