Fresh off a win at the Irish Open, Jon Rahm started strong at Royal Portrush as he looks to break through for a maiden major victory.
By Will Gray
Jon Rahm may soon become an adopted son of the Emerald Isle.
Otherwise it's difficult to explain the Spaniard's affinity with links play in this part of the world, as Rahm captured the Irish Open just two weeks ago at Lahinch. A return this week to Portrush also sparked pleasant memories, with the 24-year-old traipsing past many of the same sights and sounds he encountered while cruising to another Irish Open title just down the street at Portstewart two years ago.
Rahm was at it again during the first round of The Open, where he briefly held sole possession of the lead during an afternoon 68 that included six birdies and left him in a tie for third, two shots behind overnight leader J.B. Holmes.
Rahm began the week as one of the tournament favorites, having preceded his triumph at Lahinch with a T-3 finish at Pebble Beach and a runner-up performance at Valderrama. He quickly transformed potential into results, turning in 31 to top the early standings after three straight birdies on Nos. 7-9.
While he made a trio of late bogeys en route to a 2-over split on the inward half, Rahm is still in prime position to contend for the Claret Jug on a day when many big names like Tiger Woods (78) and Rory McIlroy (79) faltered.
"I feel like I played two rounds out there today," Rahm said. "I mean, it's a good start. You can't win the tournament today, but you can lose it. And I'm in a good position for tomorrow."
Despite Rahm's Irish links acumen, The Open has proved vexing for a player who has finished T-4 or better in each of the other three majors. Rahm's best Open performance in three prior starts came in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, where he tied for 44th.
But that mark appears likely to fall this week, as the Spaniard shot a career-best score in The Open despite a difficult close and found himself brimming with optimism after a day where players encountered rain, wind and everything in between along the coast.
"It's Open golf. It happens so much out here," he said. "It's the kind of weather that can maybe make you lose your momentum and just not get the round going. So luckily it was one or two shots that you have to hit in the rain, and that was it."
“I feel like I played two rounds out there today. ” JON RAHM
Granted, there are several big names who join Rahm in starting strong at Royal Portrush. Perennial major contender Brooks Koepka is among the large tie for third at 3 under after a round that featured just one dropped shot, while Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson carded matching 68s as they both seek a second major title.
While the star-studded crew in third is looking up at Holmes and Ireland's Shane Lowry, who took the early lead with a 4-under 67, there's still plenty to determine on the demanding and treacherous Dunluce Links layout. But if recent results are any indication, Rahm looks the part of a contender who has no plans to drop from the yellow leaderboards lining the 18th green - especially if he solves the riddle of Portrush's closing stretch.
"If the weather is the same, you know those first 15 holes can be scoreable," Rahm said. "We've just got to play really good on the last three. If you're able to sneak a birdie in on the last three, it's great. If you can finish them in even par for the week, it's a good score."