The European Tour’s newest member was part of a six-way tie for the lead as Jon Rahm joined English pair Lee Westwood and Ross Fisher at the top of the leaderboard at the WGC–Mexico Championship.
Spaniard Rahm, who has been based in the United States since attending Arizona State as an amateur and joined the European Tour earlier this week, carded a four under par 67 to join Fisher, Westwood and Americans Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore and Jimmy Walker.
Westwood was two clear with two to play, but the devilishly tricky nature of the Chapultepec Golf Club saw him finish with two bogeys to tie the lead. Fisher and Rahm both carded five birdies against a single dropped shot to join Westwood and the American trio on four under.
Rory McIlroy enjoyed a solid start on his return to competitive action, carding a three under 68 to lie just one off the lead despite suffering an upset stomach which considerably weakened the Northern Irishman towards the end of his round.
McIlroy is part of a seven-man group just one off the pace, which includes Sergio Garcia and Thomas Pieters. Current Race to Dubai Number One Tommy Fleetwood is a further stroke back on two under, while the last man to win the Race to Dubai – Open Champion Henrik Stenson – was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to illness.
John Rahm: “It was almost an excellent round. I would say that I only had two mistakes, a three-putt on the first and then a short putt I missed on 11, but aside from that it was a very comfortable day. I played really well, my short game was really good, so there’s nothing for me to complain about.
“The way the fans have welcomed us has been amazing. Those who realize or know that I’m from Spain, because my name is not that Spaniard, they cheered for me. I even heard a few fans from my homeland, from the Basque Country cheering too. I haven’t had the chance to play in Spain as a professional yet, but I’m sure it would be this warm as well.”
Lee Westwood: “I didn't expect to go out there and make eight birdies. I didn't think this was that kind of golf course where there were that many birdies on offer. But I hit the ball really well. I hit a lot of fairways, which you need to do. The distance control up here out of the rough at this altitude to some of these greens is very challenging. So with a little bit of heat as well, the ball's going ridiculous distances.
“This is a great golf course. You've got to be really patient. It's a pleasure to play a golf course where your caddie doesn't hand you the driver walking off the previous green. You've got to put in a bit of thought on this golf course, try and hit fairways. It's not just a tee up and blast it place. It's a great test and I think whoever's designed the golf course has done a great job.”
Ross Fisher: “I played pretty flawless golf, to be fair. Probably only misjudged two shots because of the altitude, one of which cost me a bogey. I didn't play overly aggressive, just kept putting it in play. I put a new putter in this week, on Monday morning and kind of liked the feel of it. Took it out to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and I thought I might as well stick with it, I'd be foolish to go with something else. So I went with it and putted really solidly today, so I’m delighted to come away with four under.”
Rory McIlroy: "The rib is fine. It's great actually. How I've responded the last couple of weeks, ramping up the practice and then playing my first full competitive round today, I didn't feel it at all so all positive in that regard. I’m just a bit weak – I didn’t get much sleep last night and haven’t eaten since breakfast.
"I probably could have played last week but I wasn't going to know how my body was going to react playing four days in a row. I'm taking next week off to see how everything reacts and responds so it was the logical place to come back. I stayed patient and the week longer will definitely pay off."