The 2023 Masters tournament is a tradition like no other. The opening round this past Thursday started with the ceremonial first drive by legendary Masters champions of the past, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Tom Watson, who replaced the late great Arnold Palmer.
We also saw two high-profile players withdraw from this year's tournament. Will Zalatoris, who has been a constant in the top ten at major tournaments over the last few years, withdrew prior to his first round. Tiger Woods withdrew after his third round after the plantar fasciitis in his foot flared up, and he determined he could not walk the course on Sunday.
It was certainly an unconventional weekend at Augusta National, as inclement weather impacted play throughout all four rounds. We saw two rain delays, one on Friday and the other on Saturday, the second of which was due to three trees falling and nearly hitting patrons stationed just off the 17th green. Miraculously, no one was hurt, but the necessary cleanup forced the leaders to play their remaining 27 holes on Sunday.
Thursday's conditions were hit-and-miss for most players, depending on when they teed off. Players like John Rahm and Phil Mickelson, who started earlier in the day, dealt with harsh winds that significantly increased the difficulty of the course. Players who teed off later in the morning were more fortunate as the winds died down and created ideal conditions to play. One of those players was Brooks Koepka, who jumped out to a big lead after the first round, shooting a seven-under 65 on the day. He had luck on his side again on Friday, as he got his entire round finished before the whistle sounded to call the players off the course and suspend play for the evening. The four-time major champion is used to success in big moments, but he had yet to reach the pinnacle of golf and earn a green jacket at Augusta National. After two rounds, he looked set to do just that, sitting at the top of the leaderboard at 12 under par with a two-shot lead over the rest of the field.
Brooks had the lead to start Saturday, but John Rahm was lurking. After a double bogey on Thursday's first hole, Rahm dialled it in, shooting seven birdies and an eagle for a round of 65. The world number two then followed that up with a 69 on Friday, which put him in the featured group along with Koepka after the cut. The two seemed inevitable after both shooting lackluster scores in the third round but still cleared the rest of the field by four to five strokes, Koepka at 11 under and Rahm at nine under.
You should never count on a predictable Sunday at the Masters, however, because momentum can shift at a moment’s notice. Brooks Koepka started his final round on Easter Sunday with a drive that ended up on the wrong fairway, and although he was able to scramble and save par, those shots became a theme throughout. He shot three over par on the front nine, allowing John Rahm to take a two-shot lead, and had a streak of 22 holes without a birdie. It was too late when he finally saw a birdie putt drop on the par-five 13th. Rahm exhibited the mental toughness needed to be a champion at Augusta National, his unwavering focus allowing him to push through the immense pressure of the moment and hit all the right shots. ESPN host Scott Van Pelt called it a surgical performance on the Pardon My Take Podcast, as the Spaniard did everything right down the stretch to close out the victory and win his first green jacket.
Rahm attributes his cerebral approach to his mental coach Joseba Del Carmen, a former bomb disposal expert in Spain. He also dedicated his win to his late Father, whose birthday fell on the same day his son won the most prestigious tournament in golf. It was also the same day Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros won his green jacket 40 years ago. The storylines behind this historic victory are almost as significant as the victory itself.
The Masters also showcased many golfers that PGA fans don't get to watch weekly. The LIV Tour significantly impacted the leaderboard, with Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Patrick Reed all placing in the top five. The rivalry between the two tours has cooled down significantly in recent months, but with the season just getting into full swing, we may see that ramp up again. This will be something to watch, especially at the remaining three major tournaments, the next of which is the PGA Championship on May 18 at Oak Hill Country Club.
Photo Credit: USA Today
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