DUBAI, U.A.E. — For three days now, the story has had a familiar ending. While the big names—Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Pieters, Justin Rose Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick—have all at various times elbowed their way onto the leader board at the DP World Tour Championship, only one, Rahm, has actually made it all the way to the top.
BR (before Rahm) that honor had belonged to just one man. An unlikely figure. One who has yet to win an event on the European Tour in 14 years (off and on) of trying. A seven-time visitor to the Old World circuit’s qualifying school. A 34-year-old Frenchman who once topped the Challenge Tour Order of Merit.
And he’s still there, albeit tied with Rahm with one round to play. Lorenzo-Vera’s 69—marred only by a three-putt bogey on the par-5 18th—took him to 15 under par for 54 holes. The pair are two shots clear of McIlroy, whose seven-under-par 65 was low round of the third day. Fleetwood, at 11 under, is the only other man within four shots of the leaders, with Willett and Fitzpatrick, eight under and six under, respectively, also lurking inside the top 10. Both, however, would appear to be too far back in the stampede for the $3 million first-place check, the richest prize in professional golf.
“It would be really cool to win this,” said McIlroy, neatly summing up the prevailing mood. “Especially with the guys that are up around the lead. You've got Rahmbo playing great. Tommy is in there. And Mike is holding steady. I've got to play another really good round of golf tomorrow to have a chance. But yeah, it would be awesome to win around here again and cap off what has been a great 2019.”
Rahm, for one, might have something to say about that. Which he did, both on and off the course. The big-hitting Spaniard toured the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Estates in an almost pristine 66, his only dropped shot coming at the par-4 eighth. And, as if the huge prize money will not be enough of an inducement, Rahm will play with an added incentive in the final round. Should he prevail and top the Race to Dubai—he is currently projected to be No. 1—he would be only the second Spaniard to do so after the late Seve Ballesteros.
“It gives me goosebumps to think about that,” said Rahm, who has made 17 birdies and an eagle en route to his current position. “I've said it many times, as a Spanish player, as a Spaniard, any time you have the chance to put your name on a list where there's only one name and that name is Seve, it's pretty impactful. It's really emotional for all of us. To think that not even Sergio [Garcia] or Miguel Ángel (Jimenez) or Ollie [Jose Maria Olazabal] or many other great players could get it done. It's hard to believe that I have the chance to be the second.”
Still, Lorenzo-Vera, the man no one has yet managed to pass and who has led ever since his opening 63—still the best round of the week—was predictably defiant, although this comments were tinged with both regret and realism. Regret for that bogey on the final hole, where he drove into the stream that criss-crosses the fairway. And an endearing realism regarding the obvious quality contained in the body of men piled up alongside him.
“It [the first prize] is in my mind for sure,” Lorenzo-Vera said. “Tomorrow I could shoot like six under and put my family out of any [financial] trouble for the rest of my life. So of course it's going to add some pressure. But I don't know, man, I'll really try to focus on the game. We'll see. Hopefully I'll be shaking for good reasons. To win would be really awesome for me, for my confidence and for my career. It would really be an awesome achievement.
“My mind-set is going to be the same, though. I'm going to try to be the most relaxed I can be, even if I won't be. It’s going to be a tough round. If one of those guys shoots seven or eight under tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised.”
One last thing. The race to be the European Tour’s rookie of the year would appear to be all but over. The two main protagonists, Robert MacIntyre of Scotland and American Kurt Kitayama, played the opening two rounds together but went in entirely different directions on Day 3. Macintyre’s 68 took him to three under par and into a tie for 20th; Kitayama’s 77 saw him plummet to 49th place in the 50-man field. As they say in Macintyre’s homeland, “his tea’s oot.”