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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Jon Rahm targets DP World Tour Championship title to put 'cherry on top of a great year'

Spaniard's first full pro season has been a remarkable one, with two titles, a rise to No 5 in the world rankings and the rookie-of-the-year award.

Jon Rahm shrugged off a bogey on the first to card a 7-under par 65 to sit one shot behind DP World Tour Championship leader Justin Rose. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Jon Rahm shrugged off a bogey on the first to card a 7-under par 65 to sit one shot behind DP World Tour Championship leader Justin Rose. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Jon Rahm began the week at Jumeirah Golf Estates being awarded the European Tour’s rookie-of-the-year title. He could conclude it with the DP World Tour Championship crown.

The Spaniard, already the world No 5, carded a superb 65 at the Earth Course on Saturday, that despite opening his third round with a bogey. By the close of play, he had grabbed eight birdies to move to 14-under par and into tied-second alongside South African Dylan Frittelli.

Justin Rose, a major champion and chasing Race to Dubai honours, leads by one. Recently, Rose won back-to-back to take his professional victories to 20; Rahm has two, but both came this year, his first full season as a pro. Granted, 2017 has been incredible already. Win on Sunday, and it improves yet again.

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“For many reasons it'd be absolutely amazing, just because being rookie of the year, winning twice on the European Tour,” he said. “Once was already a dream, but twice, and both of them being Rolex Series and one being DP World Tour Championship, it would be something really, really special. It would be the cherry on top of the icing of a great, great year.”

The cake would taste sweet, all right. Rahm had all the ingredients on Saturday, irrespective of the dropped shot on the first, or the drive into the bunker on 14 - his only poor one off the tee all day. Even still, he couldn't complain.

“I’m kind of a perfectionist, I always find flaws," Rahm said. "But to be honest, it was as close to a flawless round that I’m going to play.”

Considering what transpired on Moving Day at JGE, near-perfect was needed. Such was the scoring, that some suggested the set-up was too forgiving, although Tommy Fleetwood, the current Race to Dubai leader who carded a 65, countered: “You’ve still got to do it. It’s not that easy. It just seems the golf’s been amazing”.

It certainly felt that way. At one point, seven guys were tied for the lead on 11-under. Once the dust had settled, nine were within three of the lead. If a Sunday shootout has thus been set, Rahm doesn’t mind not being the one with a target on his back.

“I feel like if I was on top, it would be a little harder because you’ve only a one-shot lead and you have a bunch of people behind you,” he said. “I like being just a little ahead, and just feel like I'm one more, one more than these people who are chasing the leaders.

“We know it's going to take a low round. It's been happening in the morning that someone comes and shoots a 63. Apparently it's easy to do. You never know, someone who is 5-, 6-, 7-under, shoots a 63, posts 16-, 17-under and we have to catch that.

"Hopefully, again, trying to keep doing what I've done until now. I'm comfortable with the driver and it all starts there.”

Rose is in the driving seat, but he has plenty in his rearview mirror and out ahead is the chance to secure the Order of Merit, too. With Fleetwood only two back, together with Dean Burmester and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, it means the world No 6 has to be right on his game to land both prizes.

Get distracted, and Rahm or Frittelli could pounce. For the latter, and much like his peer in second place, a season-wrapping victory would cap a breakout year.

"Yeah, for sure,” said Frittelli, who in June recorded his first European Tour victory. “I definitely set high goals this year and I've achieved a lot of them.

“It's been the best one I've had as a professional so far. I just hope to keep the form coming and play well tomorrow again.”

More of the same, Frittelli said. It should come as no surprise really, given on Saturday he posted a bogey-free, nine-birdie 63. It was the lowest round of the day. It was also four shots better than Masters champion Sergio Garcia, his playing partner. Evidently, Frittelli doesn’t get fazed.

“I love playing in front of crowds,” he said. “I love playing with the best players in the world. I had fun with Sergio today. He's a good friend of mine and wonderful competitor.

“It's nice to mix it up with him. Basically I'm trying to make as many birdies as I can tomorrow and compete with these guys.”