PORTSTEWART (Northern Ireland) • 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 264, 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 playing partner Daniel Im to putt from further back.
However, Rahm replaced his ball to the front of the marker, putting him apparently in violation of the rules. TV cameras picked up the incident and Irish media said the organisers received e-mails from viewers alerting them to the possible transgression.
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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 he 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.
Number of years Jon Rahm has played as a professional.
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.
The organisers had also been alerted by an e-mail 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 hole, responding with a 30-foot putt for an eagle.
In the wake of his mini meltdown at last month's US Open, he had promised to curb his temper, so it looks like his anger management strategies are coming along quite nicely.
The Spaniard will move up to No. 8 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 favourites at this month's British Open at Royal Birkdale.
"To play the way I did here proves to me I can perform properly on a links golf course," he said. "That's what I've got to take to The Open. I know now that I have what it takes. Before, there was a little bit of doubt in my mind but now I know that I have what it takes to win a tournament on a links golf course.
"Will that happen? I don't know. But I'm going to try to enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed this week."
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 (65) was second on 270, alongside England's Matthew Southgate (66). Ramsay qualifies for the British Open, along with Scotland's David Drysdale (63) and New Zealand's Ryan Fox (68) - who both finished on 271.
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON