SPANIARD Jon Rahm will be hoping to convert his impressive recent form into a third Rolex Series title and a second victory at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
The Spaniard tees it up at Lahinch Golf Club for his third successive appearance at the historic national open tomorrow (Thursday).
The World No. 11 has enjoyed his visits to Irish soil, winning on his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open debut with a 24 under par total, which smashed the record for a tournament first played in 1927, before going on to post a top five last year in Ballyliffin despite opening with a 74.
Following a tied third finish in the US Open and a share of the runner-up spot at the Estrella Damm NA Andalucía Masters, he is in buoyant form at the famous County Clare links venue.
An ebullient Rahm said: “I’m confident. You know, those weeks, this week and the Irish Open is one of the few – if not the only one – that I feel almost as comfortable and the support that I had last week in Valderrama and the Spanish Open.
“I don’t know why, it might be my love for the country of Ireland, but it’s something that I feel like the support is here. The support is amazing. Every time I come, I’m just comfortable. It’s a great feel.
“I’ve had 10 top 10s so far this year. Playing really good golf, second places, third places. I’ve had chances to win.
“I just haven’t so far. Winning’s not easy and there’s a lot of diverse winners out this year and there’s not many multiple winners.
“There are still a lot of golf tournaments to come. Hopefully I can get it done and I hope I can win a European Tour event again.
“I’ve been able to do it the last few years and it would be amazing to be able to do it on both tours again. Looking forward to it and hopefully I can repeat in Ireland.”
“I’m driving it much better than last year. Really good off the tee. I would say maybe not last week, but in general, my putting has been a little bit better than what it was the year before.
“But again, I always equate putting to mental stability. It’s such a mental part of the game that if your head is in the right space, no matter how your technique or no matter what you see, you’re going to be able to putt properly. That’s where I go with it.”
Graeme McDowell, meanwhile, is one of the many Irish golfing luminaries to have won as an amateur at Lahinch Golf Club – alongside Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley – and the Northern Irishman will be targeting a first European Tour title in five years.
McDowell, who secured his ticket to Royal Portrush at the Canadian Open last month, said: “It’s been a great solid year. I’ve achieved a lot of things I wanted to achieve this year and looking forward to these next three weeks.
“It’s going to be some great golf, some great golf courses and a lot to play for. Very much trying to keep my eye on this week and trying to play as well as I possibly can.
“I think hats off to Paul McGinley and really the marketing he’s done the last six months on social media and really building this event up.
“Obviously it includes Rory and the job he’s done the last three years with this event and really put it back on sort of the main stage of European Tour events.
“I’m so happy for Paul. It’s a fantastic venue. Certainly no complaints from a golf course setup point of view. It’s really, really good.
“I certainly feel like I’m playing well enough to do it and I’m focused on the present here. Would love to try and compete and win this weekend.
“My record in the Irish Open wasn’t great in my younger days, kind of back to what I said earlier.
“Sometimes you show up at these events and you think just being there, that is the show, whereas focusing and competing, having a chance to win here would be very, very special.
“Definitely working hard these next few weeks, and we’ll see what happens.”
Padraig Harrington knows how much it means to the Irish fans to have a homegrown winner, after his victory at Adare Manor in 2007 – the first Irishman to win the Open in 25 years.
Harrington, who will captain Europe in the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, said: “It’s very important for the Irish Open that we create this festival atmosphere, that we create more to the event than just golf.
“And that works both ways. You know, it works from the players’ perspective.
“We want more. We play around the world all the time, so we appreciate when we come to an event and you can see as a collective, we can see the effort that’s gone in by everybody in the locality, that everybody is behind the event.
“And secondly, to create a good event, you do need to have the buy in of the locals, of the spectators, of everybody who’s coming in working or paying to come and watch the golf, if they buy into the event it just makes it all the more special if it gives a buzz.
“As I always say, you can go to a lot of events around the world, and if you pulled out of the golf, went down the road a mile and pulled into a petrol station, they wouldn’t know the event is on.
“If you do that in Ireland, you pull into the petrol station, you can guarantee you’ll be asked for a couple of tickets.