After the storms, a wave. After the fears, some rest. After the rise of Brooks Koepka, a brutal fall. And with it the majestic magnificence of Jon Rahm, Masters champion and owner of a new jacket.
What a drama. And what timing, however you choose it. Sticking to the sports context, as we know there are others out there, this was a wonderful study on how to keep a cool head when your closest neighbor loses his mind.
On that note, think about Koepka. Poor guy collapsed in a way that rarely seemed possible on the biggest stages for this revived four-time major winner, but we’ll get to him.
Because first we have to stick with the great Spaniard who ran him down and then walked away, with 69 steady strokes in an unspectacular loop that turned a two-stroke deficit at the start of the round into a four-shot win and a second major title .
His only wavering at that time came at the end. He started this tournament with a four-putt double bogey and finished it with a drive into trees, but he had luck and wiggle room on his side – it bounced back into the game. With a par, a total of 12 under and two clenched fists, he celebrated a decisive victory over what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 66th birthday and the 40th anniversary of his second title on these grounds.
Jon Rahm celebrated a four-shot win at the Masters after securing victory on the 18th
Rahm turned around a shocking first hole on Day 1 to win the 2023 Masters by some distance
Brooks Koepka congratulated Rahm afterwards with the American sealing joint second at -8
On the second place? That was Koepka, but he had fallen far enough to be joined by one of his LIV colleagues, Phil Mickelson. There was, as might be expected, tremendous excitement.
There have been dark days for that fallen idol of this sport lately. Dirty days. Humiliating days. Days when his face looked thin and tormented. Phil the thrill? Not for a while. Phil the Saudi shill? He caused it himself and bore it heavily.
But then days are like Sunday. Remember when he found magic in the gnarliest places on a golf course? Remember when he won his sixth major at age 51? He never ceased to amaze and this was one of those days – after fueling so spectacularly in his first year as a LIV Rebel, he shot a 65 and launched himself from nowhere into the clubhouse lead at eight under.
That was huge entertainment for those of us watching and neutrals will rightfully enjoy the sight. But what would the blazers have made of a Mickelson win? What about the traditional fronts of a game ripped apart by the creation of LIV, much of which was done by Mickelson’s hands and words?
There had been a suggestion, remember, that the 18 LIV golfers here could crash the green if one of them won, and so we’d have to discuss the political context.
It was clearly not the outcome that would raise the eyebrows of the establishment, but it was a triumph for the breakaway crew. Koepka, Mickelson and Patrick Reed as well – they all finished high in the standings. At a time when their tour was suffering from relevance, not least due to the loss of their arbitration case with the DP World Tour, this tournament was proof that their circuit can keep their players in good competitive position for the greats. From a PR perspective, it was huge.
Against that backdrop, if the traditional front wanted a hero, who better to call than the man known as Rahmbo? He doesn’t swing like Rory McIlroy, or putt like an excellent Jordan Spieth, or wedge it around like Mickelson. But he has no weaknesses. He’s nine out of ten in all departments, a jack-of-all-trades and now a Master of Augusta, evidenced by this feat where he dropped just one shot all day and picked up shots at just the right times.
Rahm benefited from a collapse by Koepka and the fall of Norway’s Viktor Hovland
Rahm turned the screw with birdies on holes 13 and 14 to establish a dominant lead that lasted
That was the difference: the ability to handle the occasion, adventures are exclusive in the end. Koepka, with four major wins between 2017 and 2019, was once the king of such matters, but after leading after each of the first three rounds, he unravelled. It was a shame in many ways because he looked like a broken soul for the past few years and this was a hard way to lose.
He had started day four without Rahm with 11 holes remaining in their third round, but by the time of the final round that advantage was two, with Koepka down 11, Rahm up nine and Hovland one stroke back.
That three-horse race soon became two as Hovland doubled the sixth, and two soon seemed in favor of Rahm as Koepka was horribly out of sync. It manifested itself with such a terrible drive on the opening hole that Koepka played his 215-yard approach from the ninth fairway.
Courtesy of him, he recovered for par – the drive had been so bad he actually had room to clear the trees and reach the green – before failing to capitalize on the par five seconds with a missed birdie putt from 1.80 meters. Those clutch putts, a dominant theme of his first two rounds, would be missed too often.
At the time, Rahm had yet to ignite – he also opened with consecutive pars – but their overall scores began to converge at three, as the Spaniard nailed a twisting putt downhill from 10 feet for a birdie. Koepka’s par meant the lead was now one and that then became a tie at 10 under when he failed to save the par from a greenside bunker at the par-three fourth.
Koepka’s short game was as shaky as his driving style and a failed chip on six led to another bogey, and a par to Rahm gave him a new lead for the first time since Thursday.
Phil Mickelson’s final round of 65 is the lowest round in Masters history by a player over 50
Rahm marked the moment of his success in August with his father Edorta and his son Kepa Cahill
To Rahm to see how he would manage the heat. A birdie on the par-five eighth took him to 11-under and a two-shot lead, with Koepka clattering deep into the trees off the tee and eventually scraping to a par. Both men would go nine bogey, but by then something extremely compelling was playing out in the groups ahead of them.
In a sense, that meant a popular attack from Spieth, starting at one under and working its way up to eight under, before finally dropping one to reach the clubhouse at seven. A big effort from the 2015 champ, who somehow hasn’t won a major since his third in 2017. A bigger threat to Rahm was Mickelson, who’s cut a crazy figure since going to LIV, but here again up to life came. With seven strokes on his last day for a 65, the three-time champion reached the clubhouse at eight under. Whatever your opinion of the old villain, be it Phil the Thrill or Phil the Shill, golf is much more interesting with him around, which is probably why so many found his defection so daunting.
His eight-under grade was useful, especially as the course played soft and long, but it would require a collapse from Rahm to be realistic. Not out of the question in these most tense scenarios, not least because Rahm approached the Amen Corner, but he strode through. Holes and 10, 11 and 12 survived with no hits dropped, then he turned the screw with birdies on 13 and 14.
Koepka got his first birdie of the day at age 13, for a late revival, but it would never be enough. Not against the Spanish Master.