AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jon Rahm four-putted his first hole of the tournament, got the bad end of the draw, played through weather that required a tricky conjugation of the word squeegee, and had ample justification to look to the sky and scream (bilingually) at the golf gods.
But Rahm, who shot 69 to come from behind and win the 87th Masters Tournament by four over Brooks Koepka (75) and Phil Mickelson (65), had an inner-game ally, someone who simply wouldn’t let him go to the dark side. A better angel who was in Rahm’s ear come a spasm of hellish putting or the high water of unrelenting rain – all the way until he wiped away tears walking to the 18th green, saved par, and hugged his caddie, wife and two young children.
“If you’re going to make a double or four-putt or anything,” this ally said Thursday, after Rahm had collected himself to shoot 65, “it might as well be the first hole.”
When play was called Saturday with 11-plus holes remaining in Rahm’s third round, and he trailed Koepka by two, Professor Positive said: “A lot of holes. But feeling good, feeling strong, and keep it going.” And after Rahm finished his third round Sunday morning, still two back: “Feeling good, playing good, swinging well …”
This mental-game Svengali in Rahm’s corner was, of course, Rahm himself, which is to say that this Masters, like life, was in how you looked at it. Half of it was a discombobulated, disjointed mess, with rounds no longer ending when days did, making it hard to establish a narrative.
Rahm didn’t dwell on that half. He began the final round two strokes behind Koepka but played the first eight holes in 2 under (birdies at the par-4 third and par-5 eighth) while Koepka played them in 2 over (bogeys at the par-3 fourth and sixth) to seize control of the tournament.
“What is going on on the outside is not always a reflection of the inside,” Rahm said. “I was calm. I never got frustrated. I never really got – felt like anything was out of control. But obviously you’re nervous, right. There’s tension out there.”
He especially didn’t like making bogey on the ninth hole, he added, with Mickelson and Jordan Spieth (66, T4, five back) posting a flurry of birdies up ahead. But it didn’t matter in the end.
It was Rahm’s sixth win in his last 12 starts on the PGA TOUR or DP World Tour, and with his 11th PGA TOUR title and second major victory – the 2021 U.S. Open was his other – he returns to world No. 1.
His patience, the knowledge that his stuff will win out over four rounds, has become his 15th club, so much so that he came from seven back (to Collin Morikawa) at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January, the high point of never-say-die-ism on his growing list of comebacks.
That four-shot deficit to Koepka as they resumed the third round Sunday? Please. Rahm rolled out of bed and rolled in his 9-foot birdie putt at the seventh hole while Koepka missed his par save from 11 feet, and the margin was two again. Each signed for a 73; still a two-shot deficit. Two shots? That’s nothing, especially not at Augusta National.
The final round wasn’t particularly close, Koepka failing to make a birdie until 13 when it was too little, too late. Rahm covered it with a birdie of his own and was three up with five to play.
Although he has become the very last person a leader wants to see in his rear-view mirror, there was a time when Rahm, 28, could be his own worst enemy. Part of that was immaturity.
“I mean, I went from being in college to being top 10 in the world in nine months from 2016 to 2017,” he said earlier this season. Indeed, he tied for third in his professional debut in June 2016 at the Quicken Loans National at Congressional, got his first win in January 2017 at the Farmers Insurance Open, and finished T2 at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May of that year. Those results, plus a bunch of other top-10s, sent him from Arizona State Sun Devil to ninth in the world.
“My next year wasn’t as good; the period of adaptation was too quick,” he said. “You can’t prep anybody for that, being in college, when nobody knows you exist, to being a star.”
To watch him pull away from Koepka on the back nine, when Rahm birdied 13 and 14 to leave no doubt, was to marvel at how quickly he figured it out. Comfortable in his own skin, he has built a mental toughness to match his fearsome skillset.
Like Scottie Scheffler last year, Rahm came into this week at FedExCup No. 1 and with three wins on the season. In winning his fourth, he added his name to a list of Spanish Masters winners that includes Seve Ballesteros (1980, ’83), José María Olazábal (1994, ’99) and Sergio Garcia (2017). Ballesteros, who died in 2011, would have celebrated his 66th birthday Sunday.
Neither that bit of synergy nor anything else distracted Rahm, although it could have.
“I kept hearing, ‘Seve! Seve! Seve! Do it for Seve!’” Rahm said. “I heard that the entire back nine. That might have been the hardest thing to control today, is the emotion of knowing what it could be if I were to win; that might have been the hardest thing.”
The cold, wet weather made for a long, unforgiving course, sending the premium ball-strikers, especially those who could power their way through the elements, to the front of the line.
“Most of the battle out there is just trying to keep yourself in some kind of head space that you can function,” long-hitting Cameron Young said after enduring a third-round 75.
By the time the final round arrived, the sun shone, and temperatures hit the low 60s. None of the scores reached that exalted number – 65 was the best anyone could do – and though no data is available, Rahm’s blood pressure was somewhere in the range of cool over calculated.
He’s got the long game, short game, and now the mental game. For anyone with designs on winning one of the big ones in the foreseeable future, Jon Rahm is the full nightmare.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – A look at some of the big stories from the third round of the Masters Tournament, where play was suspended for the day at 3:15 p.m. Eastern.
The third round will resume at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. The final round is expected to begin at 12:30 p.m. in pairings off Nos. 1 and 10.
Brooks Koepka completed just six holes before the third round of the Masters Tournament was suspended for the day. It was enough time for him to double his lead.
Koepka will take a four-shot lead over Jon Rahm into Sunday’s marathon finish at Augusta National. The final group of Koepka, Rahm and amateur Sam Bennett was on the seventh green when play was called for the day, leaving them 29 holes to go.
Koepka will face an 11-foot par putt when play resumes, while Rahm has 9 feet remaining for birdie.
The cold and rain that had been anxiously anticipated all week arrived as expected and tore the Masters schedule asunder. The second round wasn’t completed until midday Saturday, with Rahm having to play nine holes once play resumed at 8 a.m.
Despite conditions that playing partner Cameron Young described as “basically impossible,” Rahm shot 1-under 35 on Augusta National’s second nine to pull within two shots of Koepka, who completed his second round nearly 24 hours earlier.
In an attempt to get back on schedule, Augusta National made the rare decision to send threesomes off both nines in the third round. Koepka made five pars and a single birdie after teeing off at 1:06 p.m. local time. He was one of 11 players who was under par for the day when play was suspended.
Rahm matched Koepka’s birdie at the par-5 second but made back-to-back bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes. Bennett was 2 over for the day but stayed in third place at 6 under.
Though more than 1.5 rounds remain, the tournament is in Koepka’s hand. His playing partners are the only players who trail him by fewer than eight shots. A win would be Koepka’s fifth in a major and give him three legs of the career Grand Slam, with only The Open Championship standing between him and that accomplishment.
Conditions create survival test: Saturday’s ominous forecast lived up to its billing, sending temperatures plunging and enough rain to saturate a course that features the cutting-edge in technology. Sub-Air was no match for what Mother Nature delivered Saturday.
A day after the thermometer resided in the 80s, the temperatures did not get out of the 40s. The wet and wind made it feel even colder. The bright colors often seen at golf’s fashion show were replaced by dark, monochromatic rainsuits. The wet conditions, as well as the bulky waterproofs that were a requirement Saturday, made Augusta National play even longer, leaving players with long-irons into greens where they’ve hit wedges in the past.
The good news is that Sunday is expected to be warmer – and sunnier – which means the Masters still has the opportunity to end on time. Temperatures are supposed to reach the 60s on Sunday and some morning drizzle is the only expected precipitation. Wind gusts of 25 mph will present a challenge, however.
Rahm within striking distance: As Jon Rahm readied to resume his second round Saturday morning, he knew the conditions would necessitate survival mode. Holes that usually required short-iron approaches would demand long irons, and there would be no such thing as a true “scoring hole.”
The world No. 3 with three TOUR wins this year was up to the challenge, making three birdies against just two bogeys on Augusta’s second nine, posting 10-under total through 36 holes, two back of Koepka. The weather was so severe that the cut line moved to 3 over against long statistical odds, but Rahm passed the test to ensure he’d have a fighting chance against Koepka over the final two rounds – where both would play in the same conditions.
“(Nos.) 17 and 18 were two absolute monsters,” Rahm said of finishing the second round. “Very happy to finish those even-par.”
Rahm trailed by two into the third round, but after back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5, he’s four off Koepka’s pace into a marathon Sunday. He has recent experience along the lines of a final-day comeback, having stormed from six back to defeat Collin Morikawa at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and he’ll aim for a similar outcome to earn his first green jacket and second major title.
“Looks like it’s good weather tomorrow, so we’re going to have good weather conditions and most likely a soft golf course,” Rahm said. “Very happy with the way I finished; I made a great swing on 6 and two great swings on 7. So feeling confident, playing good golf and there’s a lot to be played.”
Spieth soaked yet spirited: Jordan Spieth and Augusta National have a special bond, even amidst dicey conditions and uneven play.
Spieth’s vault of Masters lore added another memory on the demanding par-4 fifth hole Saturday. As the rain fell at Augusta, Spieth’s tee shot sailed into trees right of the fairway. After debating his next move with caddie Michael Greller, Spieth attempted to punch back into the fairway, but his second shot advanced just a few feet. From there, he successfully punched into the fairway; his fourth shot caught a back greenside bunker. In typical Spieth form, his fifth missed the hole by the narrowest of margins – then his putt for double bogey did a near-full spin around the hole before dropping. Never a dull moment for the Texan.
Spieth stood 3 over through eight holes in Round 3 at the time of suspension, 2-under total. He’s T17, 11 strokes off the lead.
But he has 28 holes remaining in the tournament. The 2015 Masters winner has authored no shortage of magic at Augusta, including a final-round 64 in 2018 for a solo third. As the rain fell Saturday, Spieth maintained a certain twinkle in his eye.
You never know.
Tiger’s trials, tribulations: It’s not easy for this version of Tiger Woods to navigate the hills of Augusta National, let alone in Saturday’s wet conditions of heavy rain and gusting winds.
The five-time Masters winner displayed his vintage grind mode to make the cut on the number at 3-over 147, matching Fred Couples and Gary Player with his 23rd consecutive made cut at the Masters, a tournament record.
There wasn’t much time to celebrate, as the field was quickly re-paired into threesomes off two tees for Round 3, and Woods justifiably struggled in the increasingly difficult afternoon conditions.
Woods stood 6 over for the round at the time of suspension, 9-over total. Beginning on No. 10, Woods bogeyed Nos. 10 and 14 before consecutive double bogeys at 15 and 16. His tee shot on the par-3 16th sailed into the pond left of the green; his facial expression conveyed pure dismay. At the time of suspension, Woods stood 54th of 54 players to make the cut.
Sam Bennett (-6 thru 6, third): The amateur began the third round alongside Rahm and Koepka with back-to-back bogeys, but he righted the ship with four consecutive pars into the suspension of play. Particularly impressive was a 234-yard approach to the center of the green on the uphill par-4 fifth, en route to a solid par on one of Augusta’s toughest holes.
Patrick Cantlay (-5 thru 13, T4): In search of his first major title, Cantlay hung tough Saturday to keep himself within striking distance. He was 3 under for the round at the suspension of play, tied for the lowest on the course with Matt Fitzpatrick and Sungjae Im, his round propelled by three consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-4. His best finish in six prior Masters is T9.
Matt Fitzpatrick (-5 thru 11, T4): Despite a nagging neck injury that has brought uneven results in recent months, Fitzpatrick played his first 11 holes of the third round in 3 under, without a bogey on the card. The reigning U.S. Open champion has one top-10 in eight prior Masters appearances (T7 in 2016).
Scottie Scheffler (-3 thru 12, T14): The defending Masters champion played his first 12 holes of the third round in 2 under, a fine effort, but Scheffler’s week could ultimately be defined by what could have been on the greens. After missing seven birdie putts inside 15 feet in an opening-round 68, the struggles on the green continued in Round 2 – epitomized by a four-putt double bogey at No. 9 – leading to a second-round 75 that meant a heroic weekend would be needed to defend his title. He’s not out of it quite yet.
Fred Couples (+4 thru 9, T49): Couples, 63, made history Saturday morning as the oldest player to make the cut at the Masters, surpassing Bernhard Langer (2020) for the record. Couples stood on the 18th fairway as play was suspended Friday evening; he woke up and made bogey for a 1-over 145, surviving the cut line with two strokes to spare.
BY THE NUMBERS
11: Number of players who were under par for the third round when play was suspended Saturday afternoon.
73.8: The cumulative scoring average for Round 3. No one completed more than 13 holes Saturday, but that figure is the sum of each hole’s scoring average in the third round.
23: Consecutive made cuts at the Masters for Tiger Woods, matching Fred Couples and Gary Player for most all-time.
54: Number of players who made the cut at 3-over 147. The top 50 and ties advanced to the third round at Augusta National. Among those to finish outside the cut line were Justin Thomas (4 over) and Rory McIlroy (5 over). Also bidding farewell to the Masters on Saturday morning were past champions Larry Mize and Sandy Lyle.