Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy symbolic, fitting winners in season finale
Jon Rahm won the DP World Tour’s season finale on Sunday, fending off several of the world’s top European pros with a final-round 67 to win by two shots at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.
Rory McIlroy finished four shots back with a Sunday 68 but earned quite the consolation prize in the Harry Vardon Trophy, the title of top DP World Tour player for the season.
The split served was a symbolic and fitting end to the season. McIlroy and Rahm are just the heart and soul of modern European men’s golf and have also established themselves as leaders throughout a turbulent year for the pro game.
For Rahm, the victory came as the continuation of a recent run of strong play: he logged two top-10 finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, finished T2 at the BMW PGA, won the Spanish Open and finished T4 at the CJ Cup before his arrival in Dubai. It was also a fitting return for Rahm at Jumeirah’s Earth Course, where he now has three wins (plus another top five) in four appearances.
“Because of Covid I never got a chance to defend my 2019 title,” Rahm said. “And even though I decided not to come last year, I came with the mentality that, well, nobody beat me in the last two years, so they are going to have to beat me again.”
For McIlroy, the season-long title cemented his status as the top player in the world. He now owns the FedEx Cup, the Vardon Trophy and the title of World No. 1. McIlroy has gone on a tear since his runner-up finish at the Masters; he’s finished in the top eight 12 times in 15 worldwide starts since then, including a 1-T2-4-T4-1-4 stretch to finish the year.
“I’m as complete a golfer as I feel like I’ve ever been, and hopefully I can continue on that path,” he said.
The season finale also underscored the ways in which Rahm and McIlroy are aligned — and where they’re not — when it comes to the politics of professional golf. While both have expressed their loyalty to the DP World Tour and PGA Tour going forward, Rahm has been more outspoken in his criticism of the existing infrastructure, while McIlroy has been more involved behind the scenes.
Even Sunday’s win came with a reminder of their different approaches; Rahm doubled down on his criticism of the new World Ranking system — which McIlroy had praised earlier this week — calling it “a bit of a joke” that his win would receive fewer points than this week’s RSM Classic on the PGA Tour. Rahm is expected to remain at World No. 5 despite his victory.
“I’ve gone second, first, fourth, second, first, and I have not changed my World Ranking. I don’t know if that explains what I meant the other day but it should,” he said.
But their mutual respect was on display all week, too. Rahm called McIlroy’s involvement in golf’s governance “pretty remarkable,” and praised his season-long play, too.
“I think the only thing he will tell you that’s missing is a major championship of having a pretty amazing year,” Rahm said. “It’s great to see somebody with his platform to take a stand as he did, whether you agree with it or not, he’s taken a stand on what he believes in and that’s it. I think it’s great.”
Those same words could have applied to Rahm, of course.
McIlroy offered his own praise for Rahm as he accepted his trophy on Sunday.
“I’d like to say that I’m right up there as the best player in the world, but he’s right up there with me, he’s such a great player. Europe are so lucky to have him and I’m looking forward to playing with him in Rome next year, getting that Ryder Cup back,” he said.
The pair have plenty in common, high expectations perhaps chief among them. Neither won a major in 2022, with McIlroy’s drought now extending into its ninth season and Rahm missing the chance to build on his U.S. Open title in 2021. But McIlroy reminded reporters that he feels like he’s “done everything else in the game since then.” Rahm bristled at the idea that his year had been any sort of disappointment, too.
“Hopefully people can stop telling me that it was a bad year,” he said. “Three wins worldwide, three wins in three different continents, yeah, it wasn’t a major championship but it’s still a really, really good season.”
Now comes an offseason of sorts. McIlroy will tee it up again at The Match in December alongside Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth before packing it in for the year. Rahm will head with his family to the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. But both will have their eyes set on January in Hawaii, site of the first “elevated event” on the PGA Tour’s reimagined schedule.
Their own elevated expectations will follow them there.