It was a week that started with stark criticisms.
Jon Rahm sounded off on the new Official World Golf Ranking, calling it “laughable.”
Rory McIlroy said that Greg Norman needs to “exit stage left” as LIV Golf’s chief executive officer.
But 54 holes into the DP World Tour’s season finale in Dubai, Rahm and McIlroy have each relinquished the talking to their golf clubs, with Rahm leading a star-studded leaderboard at the DP World Tour Championship by a shot and McIlroy lurking just three shots back.
Rahm shot 7-under 65 Saturday at Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Earth Course. It was a flawless round, at least judging by the scorecard, as Rahm carded seven birdies and no bogeys. Yet, compared to Friday’s 66, where Rahm felt like he left some shots out there, he wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when he stepped up to the microphone after Round 3.
“Could not be any more opposite of the feeling [that I had Friday],” Rahm said. “I don't think I could have shot any lower today. Maximized the round. Wasn't my best off the tee, but I was able to actually get some birdies out of some not-so-good situations.”
Case in point: Rahm didn’t hit a fairway on any of the four par-5s, and he was able to escape with three birdies and a par.
The same cannot be said for 36-hole leader Tyrrell Hatton, who began the day four shots clear of Rahm. But after four bogeys in his first six holes on the back nine, Hatton surrendered his advantage, ultimately shooting even-par 72 and slipping into a share of fourth with McIlroy.
The world No. 1 matched Rahm’s third-round 65 as he set himself up for a potentially lucrative Sunday. Not only can McIlroy win this event for the third time (and first since 2015), he is also in position to capture his fourth season-long Race to Dubai crown and solidify his hold on the OWGR’s top spot.
McIlroy entered this week as one of seven players who still mathematically had a shot at winning the Race to Dubai. Four of them are likely now out of the running – Adrian Meronk, Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland and Ryan Fox, who is second in points to McIlroy and could’ve won the Race to Dubai with as little as a solo 13th – with a lot of help from McIlroy, of course. Fox hasn’t gotten that, and he’s done himself no favors either, sitting T-26.
That leaves McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood left to battle for the Race to Dubai on Sunday. Fleetwood, five shots off the lead and T-6, needs to win and hope that McIlroy finishes third or worse. Fitzpatrick, just a shot back of Rahm, would take the season-long title with a win or a runner-up paired with McIlroy finishing worse than seventh.
“I'll do the best I can and fingers crossed,” said Fitzpatrick, who noted that in each of his two previous DP World Tour Championship triumphs, he’s failed to capture the Race to Dubai.
McIlroy could potentially push Fitzpatrick to 0 for 3. McIlroy controls his own destiny – win and he’s the Race to Dubai champion. Also, per Twitter’s OWGR guru, Nosferatu, McIlroy could also clinch ending the year as world No. 1 over Scottie Scheffler and others with as little as a top-7 finish on Sunday.
“I've got to this stage in the game over 15 years as a pro, and I'm still trying to do things for the first time; I've never won the FedExCup and this tour's rankings in the same year, so it would be really nice,” McIlroy said. “It's been a wonderful year. I've played some really, really great golf and really consistent golf. If I'm able to go out there tomorrow and shoot a good score and get the job done, it would be a really nice way to end what's been a great year.”
Rahm, on the other hand, is trying to cap his campaign with some momentum. It wasn’t a particularly prodigious year, especially in terms of the big events – Rahm didn’t crack the top 10 in any of the majors, and he was T-55 at The Players and T-15 at the Tour Championship. (Don't tell Rahm it was an "off year," though!) But a victory Sunday would give Rahm two wins to go along with a T-2 and T-4 in his last four starts.
Not that winning for the third time in four attempts on the Earth Course will be easy.
Fitzpatrick, McIlroy and Fleetwood, all with Race to Dubai aspirations as well, are breathing down his neck.
“I've had some good Sundays out here,” said Rahm, who hasn’t fired worse than 68 in three previous final rounds here, “so hopefully I can tidy up the mistakes off the tee and have a smooth round like I did yesterday.”