Golf’s number one player dominated on Sunday, clearing the field by four strokes to win
By Ben Dickison, Staff Writer
It was a dark and stormy afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club when play was suspended due to unplayable wind and rain conditions, and LIV Tour superstar Brooks Koepka toted a four-shot lead back to the Butler Cabin clubhouse with a dicey Sunday looming. Fast forward approximately twenty-hours, to Barrika, Spain native Jon Rahm being crowned in green linen by succeeding champion Scottie Scheffler.
Rahm has been known for a nuclear disposition due to putting misfortunes throughout his career, but in this case harnessed the urge to pulverize the green with his putter. At the end of his initial round, Rahm found himself atop the leaderboard, joined by exciting prospect and elite ball striker Viktor Hovland, who also accumulated a 65 shot round.
Lurking in a tie for sixth position on Thursday was this year’s eventual low-amateur Sam Bennett, a fifth-year student at Texas A&M; he reigns as the 2022 Southeastern Conference (SEC) Golfer of the Year and 2022 US Amateur Champion.
Bennett’s historic finish- the first top 20 tournament by an amateur since 2005, places him in the company of fellow Masters low amateurs of the past Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson delivered a scintillating performance in this year’s tournament finishing in a tie for second and shooting eight strokes below par on the weekend.
Fashionably late to the leader party on day one was Kopeka, who found a birdie on the ultimate hole to disrupt Rahm and Hovland atop the throne. Koepka was one of eighteen players who have left the PGA Tour for LIV in the year since Scheffler hoisted the 2022 Masters Trophy.
However, the blooming magnolias of Augusta National seem to have unifying power, as LIV and PGA athletes endured and adapted torrential weather all the same to ensure a tournament ridden with interruptions would still finish on Easter Sunday, as scheduled.
Koepka, along with all other patrons and contestants, was able to disperse before being flattened by one of Augusta’s signature life forms, and found himself ascending to a two-shot lead at the end of the cut round, which trickled over into Saturday morning.
Notably, 63 year-old Fred Couples, 1992 Masters winner, became the oldest player to ever tread above the cut line at the Masters.
Saturday saw Rahm and Koepka paired with Sam Bennett, as part of a system of triune grouping to finish as many holes as possible before the wrath of the ominous clouds was enforced.
The afore-metioned lead group found themselves on the sixth hole when play was suspended, and Koepka relished in a four-shot lead (-13) after Rahm bogeyed the fourth and fifth holes to revert to nine-under.
“The Saturday Stoppage” was a beacon that dignified the change of Jon Rahm’s play from dormancy to an unstoppable surge and Koepka’s erosion, possibly due to his familiarity with the 54-hole structure of LIV tournaments.
Koepka added surplus tallies to his card on holes 2, 4, 6, and 9; Rahm birdied 3 and 8 to soar into a two-shot lead as the pair made their turn for the clubhouse.
Koepka was birdie-barren for the remainder of his round, finishing five strokes closer to par than he was for Saturday’s siesta. Rahm birdied 13 and 14 in rapid succession, and by the time Amen Corner was turned, there was no doubt the bearded baron would join the most elite club in professional golf: the Masters Champions.
As Rahm remarked, “If you’re going to make a double or four-putt anything, it might as well be the first hole. 71 holes to make it up.” And make it up Rahm did.
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