Prior to Sunday’s final round, the biggest story at the Masters was the weather. Media coverage was unending with a plethora of speculation and conjecture from CBS and Golf Channel pundits. There was finally enough hot air expended by these commentators to finally chase the clouds and cold weather on Sunday. At the end of the day, Jon Rahm played flawlessly when it mattered and pounced on 3rd round leader Brooks Koepka to march to victory. Rahm is the fourth Spaniard to win the event-Seve Ballesteros Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal are the others. Koepka played fabulously through the first two rounds but he did have the advantage of playing in acceptable weather compared to the rainy, windy and cold conditions that impacted the rest of the field.
The third round was cancelled at 3:15 Eastern Daylight Time with Koepka holding a four stroke advantage over Rahm. While both players were playing well, it was obvious that one of these guys were going to have to take over. There were enough Masters champions in the field who know that you can always come back in this event especially on the back nine. Koepka had a 4 shot lead with 30 holes to play but Rahm closed the gap to 2 by the start of the final round. The omen of this day might have been the very first hole when Koepka drove the ball into the 9th fairway and had to carry 215 yards over a host of pine trees. Koepka’s 5 iron caught the green and he made a terrific par but it just seemed that a struggle was beginning.
In the final round, a bevy of Master’s Champions were rallying and going low. Phil Mickelsen had been playing well all week and stayed under the radar screen, but he kept his game together and blitzed the final four holes to finish second, becoming the oldest player to finish second. Jordan Speith made a serious run as well but his drive into the scrub on 18 essentially ended his chances and he finished tied for fourth. Victor Howland finished seventh and had some brilliant patches of golf, but he hasn’t been able to generate enough consistency for 72 holes to don a green jacket (yet). He has the game to win a major but he has to get his short game to a higher level. Koepka never really “found it” in the final round shooting 75 and had to settle for a second place tie. Rahm never made a serious mistake on the back nine that would give the field any hope to be overtaken although I’m sure the roars from Mikelsen’s performance generated some attention as Rahm approached the 10th tee. Unlike past leaders who mismanaged their round to lose the event, Rahm played smartly throughout. On the 12th hole (Golden Bell), he didn’t go near that dangerous Sunday pin choosing the left side of the green some forty feet from that dangerous pin to make an easy par. Back to back birdies on 13 and 14 essentially sealed the deal as he laid up smartly on 15 taking potential big numbers out of play.
While Rahm was marching through Georgia on Sunday, there was the somber story of Tiger Woods. Augusta is a tough place to walk and the cold and rainy weather made it even more difficult than expected. Tiger managed enough grit to make the cut for the 23rd time in a row but had to withdraw in the final round as the leg pain was to great to make sense for him to compete. It’s hard to think that Tiger will be able to compete further in major championships. He has all the tools and the shots but the walking presents the severe limitation. Fred Couples at age 63 still has that fluid wonderful swing that enabled him to make another cut for the 23rd time in a row. Only one amateur, Sam Bennett made the cut and thus achieved low amateur and was in contention for a while through the first 36 holes but the pressure and reality of the final round produced a few loose shots as he tied for 16th place. A number of great players missed the cut including Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. McIlroy just couldn’t get going this week as he simply didn’t execute his game plan with some indifferent shot making and putting. He was my choice to win and he will figure out how to learn from this experience and get that Green Jacket.
There was little to no discussion about “LIV” players, which demonstrates the class event that the Masters emanates. LIV players played well as Koepka, Mickelsen and Patrick Reed finished in the top 10. I thought the topic was completely avoided as viewers were treated to Larry Mize’s chip shot to win the 1987 Masters on the 11th. One of the participants in that playoff was Greg Norman. Norman’s name was not mentioned in the Mize clip.