Jon Rahm added to the Spanish legend of success at the season’s opening major when overhauling long-time leader Brooks Koepka and pulling four shots clear of the field at Augusta to capture his first Green Jacket, his second major title, and return to the world no.1 spot.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Arizona, but has Spanish blood coursing through his veins, joined fellow countrymen Seve Ballesteros, José Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia in claiming the coveted Masters’ title, and the Basque-born man looks certain to add to that haul long before his race is run.
Having closed the gap to Koepka to just two shots following the completion of the third round early on Sunday morning, Rahm was paired with the American again for the final round in what looked to all the world like a straight shootout between the pair, barring a record-breaking round by someone from the chasing pack.
And although there was some impressive scoring from some of the earlier starters, including a stunning 65 from 52-year-old Phil Mickelson which left him in a tie for second with Koepka, and a superb 66 from 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth, who tied for fourth, none was able to land the blows earlier enough or hard enough that could have unsettled the eventual winner.
Rahm had a look of fierce concentration on his face from the off, and what on paper looked set to be a tight two-way duel between himself and Koepka ended up being a controlled and clinical march to victory for the Spaniard, as he slowly turned the screw on his American rival with a display of powerful, accurate driving, precision iron play, and a superbly deft touch around Augusta’s tricky greens.
Rahm had halved his partner’s advantage with a birdie at the 3rd and pulled level after the American found a bunker from the 4th tee. When Koepka sailed his iron shot over the green at the par-6 sixth and could not rescue par, the unflappable Rahm edged one ahead and the writing looked on the wall.
With his pedal to the metal, the Spaniard reached 11 under with a birdie at the par-five 8th, and while both players dropped shots at the 9th, Koepka’s race looked run when he bogeyed the par-3 12th, the graveyard for the hopes of many of Masters dream, while Rahm comfortably secured his par. The Floridian bounced back with a birdie at the par-five 13th, but Rahm matched his score from a third of that distance and then virtually sealed the deal with a gain at the next, courtesy of a majestic approach to the par-4 14th which ended five feet from the cup. Visibly reeling, Koepka three-putted for a five at the same hole and the gap was now four over Mickelson, who was safely in the clubhouse, and five to Koepka, with just four holes to play.
With no need for heroics, Rahm laid up on the par-5 15th for a two-putt par, and then parred 16 and 17 to arrive at the 72nd hole with a four-shot lead intact.
As if to remind us that he was human, Rahm’s final drive shot straight left off the heel and ricocheted off a tree to land in the semi-rough just 160 yards from the tee. From there he calmly laid up to within wedge distance and pitched his third to three feet for a tap-in par for a closing 69, and a 12-under-par winning total. Then, and only then, did he finally allow his face to break into a huge smile as he looked to the heavens and raised his arms aloft. The largely American galleries, who had cheered him onto every tee and green for most of the day, rose to celebrate their new champion as if one of their own.
Rahm, whose victory poignantly came on what would have been the 66th birthday of the legendary two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros,, said: “I wasn’t sure how and when my emotions were going to hit me until I played the third shot on the 18th,” said Rahm, whose first major win came at the 2021 US Open. “History of the game is a big reason why I play and Seve is a big part of that history. For me to get it done on the 40th anniversary of his second Masters win and on his birthday was incredibly meaningful.”
Alluding to his final hole dramas, Rahm added: “It was a very unusual par, very much a Seve par. It was, in a non-deliberate way, a tribute to him. I know he was pulling for me and this one is for Seve. I knew he would be up there helping and help he did.”
In what was billed as a play-off between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the two rival tours most in-form players – Rahm had already won three times in the States this year, while Koepka had won the previous week’s LIV Golf event in Florida – it was the PGA Tour man who was able to move through the gears on Sunday, while Koepka seemed stuck in second, unable to bag a birdie for a 22-hole stretch between the 8th hole of the third round and the 13th hole of the fourth. The inevitable jokes that LIV golfers were unable to keep pace for 72 holes, as their events run to just 54, were somewhat wide of mark given the performances of Mickelson and Patrick Reed, who ensured that members of the Saudi-backed tour filled three of the top four places, but Koepka seemed to have run out ideas when push came to shove on Sunday, and he will rue this missed opportunity to add a fifth major title to his already impressive CV.
Asked how he felt after letting his lead slip, Koepka said: “Kind of ho-hum. I didn’t play that great. I hit some good shots and just ended up in some terrible spots. Then at the end trying to make birdies when he’s ahead – it’s tough. Second is not very fun, so that’s motivation in itself.”
Koepka’s closing three-over-par 75 saw him finish joint second with Mickelson, while former champions Spieth and Reed, along with fellow American Russell Henley, were a shot further back in fourth. Defending champion Scottie Scheffler finished tied 10th in a group on four under, along with US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who was the highest-placed Englishman.
Tiger Woods, whose hobbling presence over-shadowed much of the proceedings at the 87th Masters, withdrew from the tournament on Sunday morning, just seven holes into his third round, citing a return of the foot injury that his plagued him since his return to competition following his car accident. Whether the five-time Masters champion returns to Augusta to fight another day remains to be seen, but for now the headlines belong to the new generation of golfers, of which Jon Rahm is currently the best.
For the final leaderboard from the 87th Masters, click here.
Jon Rahm’s winning gear
Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond (11.5°)
Fairway woods: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond T 3 (15°, 5 (18°)
Irons: Callaway Apex TCB (4-PW)
Wedges: Callaway Jaws Raw (52°, 56°, 60°)
Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG Rossie S
Ball: Callaway Chrome Soft X