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Irish Open: Portstewart a worthy venue for glorious week of golf

By Adam McKendry

I met Ulster Rugby centre Darren Cave as I was watching Michael Hoey birdie the 7th at Portstewart yesterday.

"I'm leaving if it starts raining too heavily!" he joked, as I pointed to the grey mist that was rapidly descending over Donegal in the distance.

It was something those in charge had worried about as the weather forecast continued to show that things would only get worse before it got better. That people would look at that and decide to stay at home.

They needn't have worried. That the grandstand was jam packed and the crowds lining the fairways three or four deep as Jon Rahm holed the final putt of the tournament was all they needed to know.

While the crowds weren't as big as hoped, they were still full of knowledgeable golfing folk, all enthusiastic and excited to see good golf.

As Rahm and Daniel Im navigated their way through the rain-soaked links, the gallery only grew and grew. The points that were expected to be big viewing areas were packed.

The rain didn't keep anyone away, and nor should it have. That is when it is most interesting, and it's what Portstewart needed to keep everyone guessing to the very end. Had the wind joined it, you would imagine 24-under wouldn't have won it.

As Rahm put it in his victory speech, "Golf is a game that's meant to be played in all weather... even when it's sunny!"

Speaking of the Spaniard, he was the worthy winner. Take nothing away from the excellent weeks of Im and Benjamin Hebert, but Rahm had this won both on and off the course.

He spoke a good game, declaring his love for Portstewart to endear himself to the fans, and played a good game, producing some moments of absolute magic across all four days, particularly yesterday.

By Saturday, with McIlroy and McDowell eliminated, he was the fans' favourite to win. Cries of "C'mon Rory!" were replaced with, "Let's go Jon!", and he fed off that, riding a wave of support to a trophy.

Already he's talking about next year, defending his title at Ballyliffin in Donegal, and is raving about his experience.

He was exceptional, flighting shots in at all angles and from all distances, and every time they hit their mark with outstanding precision.

The clincher came at the par-five fourth on Sunday, when he hacked out of the rough and then proceeded to knock in his third shot from the middle of the fairway. That was the beginning of the title parade.

He could have parred his way in from the fourth to win, such was his margin of victory. But instead he added five birdies and an eagle after that point for a record score.

Does it matter the scores were so high? Not a bit.

As already mentioned, and as Portstewart captain Paul Hewitt remarked: "We were unlucky to get six consecutive days without any wind!"

Instead we got six days of the world's best showing us how it should be done - attacking flags, playing aggressive and being rewarded. It was glorious to behold.

Portstewart was a worthy venue. Rahm a worthy champion. And the 2017 Irish Open worthy of a place among the best.

Belfast Telegraph

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