Rahm zooms ahead on back nine, wins Masters and dedicates it to legend Seve on his 66th birthday -

Rahm zooms ahead on back nine, wins Masters and dedicates it to legend Seve on his 66th birthday

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Masters champion Jon Rahm of Spain lifts the Masters Trophy during the Green Jacket ceremony following the final round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Sunday, April 9, 2023.

V Krishnaswamy

Augusta: This was Jon Rahm’s moment but like a true champion he spoke more about history and legacy and dedicated the sensational four-shot Masters win to the Spanish golfing idol Seve Ballesteros, whose 66th birth anniversary was on Sunday.

He finished with 69 and 12-under as Brooks Koepka faltered with 75 and ended at 8-under, just as the ageless Phil Mickelson did with his Masters best round of 65.

Sam Bennett, the amateur, who threatened to create his own slice of history finished with 76-74 in the last two rounds and finished T-16 but was the top amateur.

Earlier Tiger Woods pulled out on Sunday morning with 11 holes still to play as he had reaggravated his plantar’s fasciitis in the wet and cold weather. It was only his second withdrawal in a Major as a professional.

Rahm got stronger as the final round progressed. And he never let go. He did not let emotions get in the way despite the obvious tension.

He said: “I was calm. I never got frustrated. I never really felt like anything was out of control. But obviously you’re nervous. There’s tension out there.  I might have looked calm but I was definitely, definitely nervous out there. I’m glad that’s the way it looked.  That’s what you strive for, right? You don’t want to panic, and I never panicked.”

The win was special and emotional as it was also the 40th anniversary of Seve’s second Masters win and Easter Sunday, to add to the celebration.

The fourth Spaniard to win the Masters and the first European to win the US Open and the Masters, paid rich tributes to Ballesteros.

Rahm said: “It’s hard to put it into words. Obviously we all dream of things like this as players and you try to visualise what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like.

“When I hit that third shot on the green, and I could tell it was close by the crowd’s reaction, the wave of emotion of so many things just overtook me.

“I never thought I was going to cry by winning a golf tournament, but I got very close on that 18th hole. And a lot of it is because of what it means to me and to Spanish golf.

“It’s Spain’s tenth Major, fourth player to win the Masters and my second Major win; it’s pretty incredible. And to play the way I did on Sunday, only one bogey in difficult conditions – hard to explain.

“A lot of pride and I am really proud of myself and what I did. This one was for Seve. He was up there helping, and help, he did.”

Starting the second round two back on Saturday, Rahm went four behind Brooks Koepka when play was stopped on the wet and soggy Saturday.

Re-starting on Sunday from there he halved the lead back to two when the third round ended. Rahm birdied the third and Koepka bogeyed the fourth and suddenly the lead was gone and 14 holes were left in the Masters.

And, then when Koepka bogeyed the sixth and Rahm birdied the eighth, the gap was two in favour of the Spaniard. Both bogeyed the ninth and Rahm went into the back nine two clear. He was never headed. As Koepka alternated between birdies and bogeys between 12th and 17th, he stayed at 8-under, where the ageless 52-year-old Phil Mickelson had finished following his Masters best round.

Rahm played solid, keeping his emotions in check and the game steady. He birdied 13th and 14th and coasted to a four-shot win despite a bit of anguish when he took a provisional on 18th.

Rahm clipped the pines with his 18th drive and took a provisional but his ball was found and was safe. At the press conference, he said, “I think that was karma. I was just telling Adam (caddie) how great I hit a low fade the entire week. Hit pretty much every fairway all four days on 17, which I’ve never done. And I was bragging about it a little bit, and, of course, on 18, that happens, right, which was maybe two feet from missing that tree.

“But it will be a good story in the future, I guess.”

He came out and hit a great shot to four feet and holed it for a par. A year ago on the same 72nd, Scottie Scheffler had a four-putt but still held on for a win.

Rahm had done his homework, learnt from what others did over the years and he packed it all on Sunday. He remembered all that happened when he played the last round with Woods and finished T-29.

Then he spoke with former champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who was there to greet him when he came off after sealing the win. He also spoke to Tony Finau, who lost to Woods in 2019, it helped at Amen Corner.

“I played nine holes with him on Wednesday,” said Rahm. “I asked him when he and Francesco hit those shots in the water, ‘Did you actually hit a good shot?’

“He said, ‘Yeah, it was a good shot, it was just a yard too far right and spun in the water.’ Then he mentioned Tiger’s shot went left of the bunker to that Sunday pin.”

As Rahm finished with four solid pars, he stayed at 12-under while Koepka was stranded at 8-under with a series three birdies and three bogeys on the back nine.

“I felt comfortable with my game, and I had a plan to execute, and that’s all I can do.”

Indeed.

Jordan Spieth (66) lit up Augusta National with eight birdies. But the 2015 champion messed up the 18th and just then Mickelson made his eighth birdie for a 65 and it put him in a mix. Around the time Mickelson finished Rahm was 10-under and the gap was just two and Koepka was crumbling. Then Rahm ended all conjecture with birdies on 13ht and 14th and never faltered despite the concern with his 18th drive.

Mickelson finished in a tie for second with Koepka, while Spieth, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley were tied fourth. Cameron Young, now a familiar face in Top-10 at Majors, was tied seventh with Viktor Hovland, who could not carry on his earlier momentum and carded 74.

Sahith Theegala, who gave the crowd a great moment with his Tiger-like chip in 16th zoomed from zero (even par) at the start of the final to 6-under by the 16th and then gave away a shot to finish 5-under. Yet he finished sole ninth and was the best debutant, ensuring a return to the Masters next year as the Top-12 finishers get invited to the following year.

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler (70) was tied 10th with Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

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