LONDON (Reuters) – Jon Rahm eased to a six-shot victory in the Irish Open on Sunday, shattering the course and tournament record, but his win was overshadowed by a ball-marking controversy that shone an uncomfortable spotlight on golf’s complicated rule book.
The 22-year-old Spaniard, who hit two eagles and five birdies in a final-round 65 to finish on 24 under par, was at his scintillating best when the incident at the sixth hole threatened to leave him with a two-shot penalty.
As he reached the green, Rahm placed his marker to the side of his ball to allow his playing partner Daniel Im to putt from further back. However, on returning to his marker, Rahm replaced his ball to the front, putting him apparently in violation of the rules.
TV cameras picked up the incident and Irish media said organizers received emails from viewers alerting them to the possible transgression. However, rules official Andy McPhee told Sky Sports that no penalty was imposed because Rahm “made a reasonable judgment” in replacing his ball.
Key to that decision may have been the fact that Rahm had moved his mark a putter’s length to the side to get out of Im’s line, allowing for differing interpretations of the rules.
“To my eyes, I put the ball back exactly where it was,” Rahm said.
Earlier this year, American Lexi Thompson was retrospectively handed a four-stroke penalty for a similar incident at the ANA Inspiration in California, a penalty that cost her what would have been her second major title.
Organizers had also been alerted by an email from a TV viewer and golf’s governing bodies changed the rules to limit the impact of video replays where evidence is revealed that could not be reasonably seen with the naked eye.
On Sunday Rahm was officially cleared of wrongdoing by chief referee McPhee when he reached the 13th, responding with a 30 foot putt for an eagle.
The Spaniard will move up to number eight in the world little more than a year after turning professional.
He joined an illustrious list of Spanish former Irish Open winners, including Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia, and he will be among the favorites at this month’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Rahm went into the final round with a share of the lead alongside American Im, who finished joint fourth after a final-round 72.
Scotland’s Richie Ramsay was second on 18 under par, alongside England’s Matthew Southgate.
Ramsay qualifies for the British Open, along with Scotland’s David Drysdale and New Zealand’s Ryan Fox.
(Reporting by Neil Robinson, editing by Ed Osmond)