| 16.6°C Belfast

Rory McIlroy knocked off world number one as Portstewart favourite Jon Rahm realises lifelong goal in poignant moment


Jon Rahm (left) has replaced Rory McIlroy as the world's number one golfer.

Jon Rahm (left) has replaced Rory McIlroy as the world's number one golfer.

Jon Rahm (left) has replaced Rory McIlroy as the world's number one golfer.

Rory McIlroy has fallen off the top of the world, pushed by adopted son of Portstewart Jon Rahm.

The Spaniard won The Memorial Tournament at the weekend to swap places with McIlroy at the summit of the official world golf rankings. McIlroy had been top of the list since early February, when he reached the number one mark for the first time since 2015.

It was always set to be a big week with the world's top five all in action at Muirfield Village and all with the chance of ending the tournament on top.

It was Rahm who seized the initiative, finishing off a three-shot victory over Ryan Palmer, with McIlroy down in a tie for 32nd.

Rahm won the hearts of Northern Irish golf fans and became an honorary life member of Portstewart Golf Club after he won his maiden tour victory at the north coast venue in the 2017 Irish Open . He returned for a special ceremony to accept his membership during the week of last year's Open Championship.

There had been a feeling three years ago, as he tamed the Strand Course, that Rahm was destined for great things but after claiming a telling 10th tour success on Sunday, he revealed that he has been aware of his own potential for much longer than that.

"My coach Eduardo Celles asked me about my ambitions when I was 13 or 14," he explained. "I said straight up, I want to be the best player in the world.

"I made that deal with myself very young and started working towards that goal. Everything I've done golf-wise has been to become number one in the world and become the best player I can be.

"It's pretty surreal to think it's happened this quickly, in less than 10 years. I mean, how many people get to achieve a lifelong team, a short lifelong dream, in their mid-20s? It's incredible."

As those at Portstewart Golf Club, and his favourite north coast restaurant the Ramore, will vouch for, Rahm's down-to-earth nature went a long way to earning so many fans in Northern Ireland.

He says his newfound stature, as only the second Spaniard after the late, great Seve Ballesteros to be named world number one, won't mean that he has changed when he arrives back in Portstewart for next year's Irish Open.

"It doesn't change the core of who I am, honestly," he said. "I hope it never does.

"Nothing that I've done has changed the core person I am off the golf course. Like I said, golf is just a part of my life. It's what I do. If I ever had to choose, and I've said this before, between being a good husband and a good father and a good golfer, I'd always choose being a good husband and a good father. I'd rather be a good person outside of it, and I take pride in that and hopefully I can keep doing it."

The honour could scarcely have arrived at a more poignant moment for Rahm, who recently suffered two family tragedies with the deaths of his grandmother and great aunt, not to coronavirus but, he says, potentially to the mental toll of quarantine.

"One of them was my grandma, the woman who next to my parents helped raise me," he said. "She taught me so many things and I have so many memories with her.

"(On Saturday) they took her ashes back to Madrid because my family has to live in Madrid to be with the rest of her family.

"It goes to show there are more important things in life than me accomplishing what I accomplished. We're going through a pandemic.

"I hope we can get through this. I hope we can all be as safe as possible and get to life as normal as possible as soon as possible. But through what we've gone, my brother had his first daughter, so new life in the family. Now I've accomplished this. I think we have a lot of reasons to enjoy the next few days."

Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry both missed the cut at The Memorial in a disappointing result that could prove costly for McDowell, who drops five places to 54th in the world rankings, outside the all-important top 50 that bring invites to the world's top tournaments.

Mercifully, it won't cost him a place at the World Golf Championship St Jude Invitational next week, as the rescheduled tournament honours his qualification for reaching the world's top 50 on the original cut-off date.

McIlroy, Rahm, McDowell and Lowry are all sitting out this week's 3M Open ahead of next week's WGC event.

Belfast Telegraph