The conclusion was as if scripted. Only Seve Ballesteros had taken delivery of the European Tour’s order of merit title on behalf of Spain before Jon Rahm triumphed on Sunday.
Rahm had been eight clear of Tommy Fleetwood after seven holes of the final round. By the 18th, the 25-year-old had to get up and down from a greenside bunker for a birdie to avoid a play-off that would have determined the outcome of the DP World Tour Championship and season-long Race to Dubai. He summoned the spirit of Seve with some short-game magic; a delicate flick from sand left a three-foot birdie putt for victory.
“I’ve thought about it all week,” said Rahm of emulating Ballesteros. “I’ve thought about it the last two hours. I thought about it as soon as I made the putt but it still hasn’t processed in my mind. It’s a thought in there that still has not been internalised.
“It’s really so hard to believe that some of the greatest champions in European golf and Spanish golf haven’t been able to accomplish what I have. It just doesn’t feel like it’s true. It’s hard to believe.”
It was not Ballesteros but another great, Jack Nicklaus, who sprung to the Spaniard’s mind as he sought to close out what had long looked a straightforward win. He three-putted the 15th for a bogey as Fleetwood was about to complete an inward nine of 31. The Englishman’s 18-under-par total was the target. “I heard Jack Nicklaus talk about his win at the Open at Muirfield [in 1966],” Rahm said. “He said he was on the 16th hole and told himself: ‘If you finish three, four, four, which was birdie, par, par, you win the tournament.’
“I told myself on 16 before I hit the tee shot: ‘If you finish four, three, four you win the golf tournament, no matter what anybody else does.’ You dream of making birdies on 18 to win a tournament.”
Rahm’s record in regular European Tour events is extraordinary. From 15 starts he has won six times and recorded top-five finishes 11 times. He can be combustible – by his own admission – but has progressed in the game at a rapid rate; he is now the world No 3.
Fleetwood had no cause to be upset. This marked the third year in a row he had been in the Race to Dubai hunt at its denouement. A fourth round of 65, seven days after winning the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City, had only served to underline the 28-year-old’s excellent finish to 2019. “I’m proud of the way I played the last few holes,” he said. “I’m proud of the end of the season. These two weeks make the season just seem in a different light. Fair play to Jon. That’s a cracking birdie down the last when you have to make it. I’m absolutely fine.”
Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who contributed much to this tournament, managed a 70 to finish third. Given the scale of the Frenchman’s display alongside the finest players in Europe, it seems bizarre he is yet to claim a main tour victory. “I know if I am around it enough, I can do it,” said Lorenzo-Vera, who led after the first round and competed at the top of the leaderboard for all four days. “One day golf will give it to me.”
Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre capped a memorable debut season on the European Tour by collecting the rookie of the year award. The 23-year-old, who still lives with his parents in Oban, has earned widespread praise for his play and attitude. Seven top‑10 finishes contributed to his season’s earnings of more than €2m.
MacIntyre cites a week off in May as key to what happened next. “I wasn’t enjoying golf, I didn’t even want to be playing golf, if I’m honest with you,” he said. “So I took the week off, went and played some shinty, and that made me realise what life was about. It was an away game on the bus with the boys enjoying ourselves and it made me realise that the job I’m doing isn’t a job.
“You’re doing it because you enjoy it and that’s the mindset I’ve had for the last 17 events; don’t find it a chore. Go and enjoy it every week, every day, and that’s what I’ve done. Here we are.”
High praise for MacIntyre arrived from Justin Rose, his final-round playing partner. “He has a brilliant journey ahead of him,” said the former world No 1.
Rory McIlroy closed with a 73 for fourth place. “I’ll look back at 2019 very fondly,” he said. “There’s been a lot of good golf played, probably some of my most consistent golf. Four wins, this is the 19th top-10.
“It’s been a learning year as well. I learned some things I want to take forward into next year but first and foremost, I’m looking forward to a couple of months off.”
For McIlroy reflection. For Rahm celebration; he has joined illustrious company.