Koepka pulls away four clear of the field, Rahm still second at Masters -

Koepka pulls away four clear of the field, Rahm still second at Masters

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Brooks Koepka of the United States plays a stroke from the No. 4 tee during the second round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Friday, April 7, 2023.

From V Krishnaswamy in Augusta

Augusta: Brooks Koepka added a one more birdie to his total to get to 13-under, even as his closest rival, Jon Rahm, slipped from 10-under to nine-under and the lead had swelled to four shots at the 87th Masters.

Play was suspended just as the lead trio approached the seventh green, which itself had a lot of water. That means the lead group, Koepka, Rahm and amateur Sam Bennett will need to play almost 30 holes on Sunday.

Augusta National officials announced that play will resume on Sunday at 8.30 am and the final round with players starting from first and tenth is expected to begin at 12.30 pm.

By the time play was called off, Koepka with a customary birdie on the Par-5 second – his seventh on a Par-5 apart from one eagle – had moved to 13-under, while Rahm, who started the third round at 10-under, picked a shot on Par-5 second but gave away back-to-back bogeys on fourth and fifth.

The gave Koepka, who has dropped just one bogey in 42 holes  a hefty four-shot lead.

As the conditions became wet, soggy and slippery with flooding at various parts of the course including greens like the seventh and 12th, only 11 of the 54 players left after two rounds, had gained some ground. Of them only four – Patrick Cantlay, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sungjae Im and Scottie Scheffler – had gained two or more shots in the holes they managed in the third round.

At one stage after his birdie on the 15th of the second round Rahm, then at 11-under, had closed the gap with Koepka (12-under) to just one, but by the sixth hole of the third round, the gap had swelled to four.

Rahm dropped a closing bogey to finish the second round two shots behind. Then in the third Koepka birdied the Par-5 second hole and Rahm had one birdie and two bogeys.

Earlier Tiger Woods just about squeezed inside the cutline, but that was also because Justin Thomas dropped a bogey on the last and exited like Rory McIlroy.

It was Woods’ record equalling 23rd straight cut at the Masters and he has never missed the cut at Augusta, since he turned pro and won his first Green Jacket in 1997. Injuries did force him to miss the Masters on four occasions in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2021. Woods joined Gary Player and Fred Couples in streak of 23 straight cuts.

Woods teed off from the 10th for third round and had a miserable time in the third round. Drenched by the downpour, he bogeyed 10th, and 13th and then had rare back-to-back double bogeys on 15th and 16th to be 6-over through seven holes.

Dustin Johnson, too, suffered in the third round. His first nine on the back stretch saw him make just one par and he had five bogeys, one double and two birdies. He had four pars in four holes on his second nine when play was stopped.

Amateur Sam Bennett dropped two shots with bogeys on first and second but was still lying third at 6-under.

Cantlay rose from 2-under after 36 holes to 5-under with three birdies  from second to fourth and then a fourth on 13th. He dropped a shot on 11th but had risen to tied fourth up from tied 20th. The same was the case with Fitzpatrick, who had three birdies in the 11 holes he had played and the pair was 5-under. Also at tied fourth were Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa, as both 1-over for the seven holes they managed.

Six players including three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who had a 69 in second round, Justin Rose, Joaquin Niemann and Russell Henley were even for nine holes and tied eighth alongside Cameron Young and Jason Day, who were 1-over through eight and nine holes for totals of 4-under.

Scottie Scheffler, 2-under through 12 holes, was tied 14th with Ryan Fox and Gary Woodland.

On the face of it, it might seem Koepka and Rahm may make it a two-horse race, but at the Augusta National, one bad swing can change it all. Also Koepka, currently on the seventh, will have a testing time as he will need to walk for a shade more than 29 holes with a knee that has caused him much anguish in the recent past, and cost him time and confidence, which he is just about regaining.

The forecast for Sunday looks much better and should be much drier and a bit warmer so a full day’s play can take place to crown a new champion.

The Augusta National also announced that the purse has been enhanced to $18 million for the tournament with the winner picking up  $3.24m.

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