AUGUSTA, GA. Olé, Olé, Olé, John Rahm is the new Masters champion. The four-stroke victory was impressive given the pathway the Spaniard had to follow including overcoming varying weather conditions in securing the coveted Green Jacket. Here are the ten items of note from this year's event at Augusta National.
#1 - Jon Rahm returns to the pole position in the world rankings
The 28-year-old claimed his second major championship and becomes the fourth man from Spain to win The Masters. Rahm did so on the 40th anniversary of the victory by fellow countryman Seve Ballesteros who won his second Green Jacket in 1983. Rahm's win also fell on the same date (April 9) when Sergio Garcia won the tournament.
Rahm overcame a four-shot deficit when Saturday's third round was suspended. The margin was quickly cut in half when play was restarted on Sunday morning when Rahm birdied the 7th and Koepka bogied. The Spaniard took his first lead at the 6th hole on Sunday and never looked back.
Amazingly, Rahm overcame an opening hole four-putt Thursday which resulted in a double bogey. He turned things around from that point scoring nine-under-par and finishing the round in a three-way tie for the lead at 65. The 1952 Masters winner Sam Snead is the only other player to have opened with a double-bogey and still claimed the Green Jacket.
How good has Rahm been? In his last 13 worldwide starts he's won five times and had ten top ten finishes. That's why he reclaims the pole position as the best golfer on the planet.
#2 - Mickelson's magic moment
Few thought Phil Mickelson would factor into the final result. The three-time Masters champion had other plans.
Starting the final round ten shots behind leader Koepka, the six-time major winner posted a remarkable closing score of 65, birdieing five of the last seven holes including the final two holes.
At age 52, Mickelson becomes the oldest-player to finish in the top five of a Masters and he now owns the record for the lowest round in Masters history by a player age 50 or older.
Since his record setting winning performance at the '21 PGA Championship, Mickelson has been more noted for his involvement with the rival LIV circuit, his comments on the involvement of the Saudis and the desire to force leverage on the PGA TOUR to make key internal changes.
Amazingly, Phil joins a special club of just seven other players who have finished in the top ten at The Masters in four different decades,
Poetic justice, Mickelson's game resurrected itself on of all days Easter Sunday.
#3 - Koepka cannot seal the deal
In three previous instances when Brooks Koepka held the 54-hole lead at a major championship he prevailed. That streak ended Sunday at Augusta.
The four-time major winner had opened up a four-stroke margin against Rahm through 42 holes but when play resumed Sunday at the par-4 7th hole the margin was cut in half when Brooks bogied and Rahm birdied.
Koepka's opening two-round score of 132 matched the score set by Greg Norman in 1996. Ironically, Brooks followed in the same footsteps as the Aussie in not winning The Green Jacket.
The inability to score for the final 36 holes was apparent. After a birdie at the
par-5 8th during the third round he would not birdie another hole until the
par-5 13th of the final round. Going 22 holes without a birdie at the elite level is a clear recipe for disaster and that fate befell Koepka.
Nonetheless, Koepka brought back to life a career that shows a golfer who is able to raise his game at the biggest events.
#4 - Is Tiger Woods finished?
The Masters marked only the second time Woods competed in 2023. Although he extended his non-cut streak to 23 and is now tied with Gary Player and Fred Couples, his discomfort physically was noticeable apparent.
Woods decided to withdraw prior to the resumption of the third round on Sunday morning.
As he showed in 2022 during the majors he played, the physicality in walking courses with hills is a chore of monumental proportions.
Woods has admitted that because of his back he cannot practice as much as he had previously. He also has acknowledged that playing too many tournaments will not be doable either.
Since winning his fifth Masters in 2019, Woods has played in ten major events. In four of them he has missed the cut and in two others withdrew before the event concluded. In none of them has he come remotely close to being in the competitive hunt.
Woods was involved in a serious car crash in February 2021 and it is clear the simple act of walking while attempting to play competitive golf at the highest of levels is not doable. Will Tiger opt to stop playing competitive golf? Only Woods knows that answer but if past is prologue the writing is more than just on the wall.
#5 - McIlroy missing in action
There was a clear sense Rory McIlroy's arrival at Augusta National this year would be different. And that the four-time major champion would be able to secure a Green Jacket and become just the sixth member of the career Grand Slam club.
That promise of what might have been unraveled during Friday's second round when he posted a dreadful 77 to go with his even-par 72 on Thursday.
What made the 72 round seem out of place was that most of the key players in the field took advantage of ideal scoring conditions during the first round.
The failure to play the final 36 holes surely is disappointing but it begs the bigger question, can the 33-year-old end the streak of not having won a major championship since August of 2014? For many people there is still strong sentiment if McIlroy can finally capture a fifth major title, he will win several more after that.
That may well happen but all the evidence points to a far different story for Rory. The specter of whether another major win happens at all is not to be completely dismissed. It's important to point out that at age 34 Arnold Palmer won his fourth Masters and the future seemed bright. No additional majors were won. Seve Ballesteros was 31 after winning his fifth major at The Open Championship. Additional majors were expected but never came.
Food for thought for McIlroy with the PGA Championship coming up in just over a month's time at Oak Hill in Rochester, NY.
#6 - The "momentous" role for the 13th hole resurrected
After years of study the decision by the brain trust at Augusta National to extend the teeing area of the par-5 13th hole was implemented for this year's event.
Masters Chairman Fred Ridley stated the club's goal was to revive the "momentous" decision that co-founder Bob Jones believed was the underlying element of the hole.
The tee was extended from 510 to 545 yards and the added 35 yards made a clear difference for a number of players in deciding whether to go for the green in two shots or safely lay-up and then pitch onto the putting surface.
Hole No. 13 | Azalea | Par 5 | 545 yards
One of the most recognizable holes at Augusta National, No. 13 welcomes captivating drama. A new teeing position adds length to the hole this year. With Rae’s Creek and bunkers protecting the green, hazards are omnipresent. #themasters pic.twitter.com/tP96P6vjCa
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 7, 2023
#7 - Sam Bennett's performance
No amateur has ever won The Masters but after the first two rounds the possibilities came to life with the play of Texas A&M standout Sam Bennett. Winner of the 2022 U.S. Amateur, Bennett opened up with back-to-back rounds of 68. His two round opening total of 136 was just one shot off the record set by Ken Venturi in 1956.
Bennett's play on the weekend stumbled with him scoring rounds of 76-74. His victory in the U.S. Amateur provides exemptions into the upcoming U.S. Open and The Open Championship later this year provided he remains an amateur.
#8 - Masters Chairman remains silent on USGA / R&A ball rollback and states Greg Norman is persona non grata in 2023
During his annual press briefing Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley stated the club will not provide any reaction to the recently proposed Modified Local Rule announced jointly by the USGA and R&A. The provision would permit elite golf competitions to use a distance reducing golf ball commencing on January 1, 2026.
Ridley reiterated the club's concern on distance gains but has decided to allow the comment period to proceed before making any statement on the issue.
When asked in years past on whether the club would entertain the thought of instituting a specific "Masters golf ball" which would go less distance than a traditional ball, Ridley stated the club would defer to the two rules-making bodies on the matter.
On the subject of Greg Norman, the Chairman was utterly clear. The Aussie who leads the LIV effort was not invited to attend because of the concern his presence would detract from the event. Ridley was asked if Norman's non presence might change and the response was straightforward, "Never say never."
#9 - Spring time weather in Augusta provided for two distinct golf courses
When play commenced on Thursday for the first-round temperatures were in the mid-80s. Low scores were prevalent with three players tied at 65. The warm air continued for the second-round and again low scores were plentiful.
Then late Friday matters changed as a powerful storm front created two different stoppages before play was suspended. When play resumed early Saturday the daytime high could only reach 49 degrees. A difference of nearly 40 degrees from the opening round.
Rain was falling hard for much of the day before play was again suspended.
The Sunday final round started with cloud cover before sunshine broke through with temperatures in the low 60s. Who would have thought weather akin to The Open Championship would be on hand at Augusta in April.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 8, 2023
#10 - The PGA TOUR versus LIV battle was a mixed verdict
This year's event at Augusta provided the first intersection of players from the PGA TOUR and those who bolted to play for the LIV circuit.
The possibility existed if Brooks Koepka had won he would receive The Green Jacket from the defending champion and formerly ranker number one player in the world Scottie Scheffler. The optics in seeing the leading player on the PGA TOUR serve as a butler for a LIV player would have given LIV organizers a moment to celebrate their good fortune.
Rahm's win prevented that but LIV did earn points in having players such as Koepka, Mickelson and Patrick Reed all finish in the top four slots.
The more interesting question will be how LIV players fare when they intersect again with PGA TOUR players at next month's PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Until next time, Augusta 💯 pic.twitter.com/IM0FO0azDz
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 10, 2023