Tour Confidential: Jon Rahm’s Masters victory, Tiger Woods’ WD, LIV’s strong showing

jon rahm celebrates his masters win

Jon Rahm celebrates his four-stroke Masters win on Sunday at Augusta National.

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Check in each day of this week’s Masters for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topic in the tournament, and join the conversation by tweeting us

Jon Rahm was four shots off the lead on Sunday morning, cut the deficit to two after the third round and cruised to a four-shot win at the Masters over Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson. What most impressed you about Rahm’s victory, and are you surprised he came all the way back to win?

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Given how well Koepka was not only striking the ball but also putting, I didn’t see him kicking away his lead. But who knows, maybe not having enough recent reps in 72-hole tournaments finally caught up to him. I was most impressed that Rahm overcame a double-bogey on the opening hole Thursday and still won (only two other players have done that in a major in the last 30 years) and also that he kept his cool and steel during the foul weather. His maturation has come a long way.

Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): What isn’t there to be impressed with Rahm? I’ll start with the most obvious one which was his driver. Aside from the one on 18, which he said he didn’t even care about because he was up four, he drove it on a string. I said his tee shot on 13 in the final round was probably the best in the history of that tee! He can work it both ways when he has to. Oh and what did he do after the smother hook on 18? Rope it down the middle. I really wasn’t surprised to see him come back, especially after he did it in Maui.

Jessica Marksbury, senior editor (@jess_marksbury): His calm demeanor and belief, especially between the end of the third round and the start of the final round. He was in complete control — and he knew it.

After taking a two-shot lead into the final round, Brooks Koepka didn’t win, but his fine play — not to mention Phil Mickelson’s — still fired up the LIV Golf-vs.-PGA Tour debate. How much do you suppose Koepka’s week will help to bolster LIV Golf’s image/credibility?

Sens: Well, with three LIV players finishing in the top four spots, it dispels the idea that these guys were all going to instantly lose their edge. But I don’t think it does anything to change LIVs bigger image/PR problem, which is that the team concept feels forced and the events seem weightless. At the same time, the strong showing by Koepka and Co., doesn’t cast a great glow on the Tour, either, as it reminds fans of what’s been lost in the Tour vs. LIV rift. Now, we only get the very best of the best four times a year.

Bastable: A few of my colleagues and I had lunch (humble brag alert) on the clubhouse’s second-story veranda Sunday from where we spied PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sitting by himself on a bench that looks out toward the course. I would have paid him more than a penny for his thoughts, but you couldn’t help but think he wasn’t mulling the day’s outcome and how it might influence the pro-golf war. Would a Koepka (or Phil or Reed) win really damage the PGA Tour? Not in any tangible way. But it would have been a reminder to fringe fans that LIV, however you feel about the tour, has some serious talent. Heck, even without a LIV winner, as Sens points out, that point was still made this week.

Marksbury: Well said, Josh. And as Koepka said in his post-round press conference, “We’re still the same people.” This week’s performances seem to support that. If anything, I think LIV’s finishes at Augusta add even more intrigue and excitement to the major weeks where both LIV and the PGA Tour will go head-to-head.

Hirsh: I agree, this doesn’t change much of the public perception around LIV Golf, but it does prove these guys can still play. And hey, that intrigue is good for us!

Tiger Woods withdrew from the Masters before the resumption of Sunday’s third round, citing a reaggravation of his plantar fasciitis. The cold conditions weren’t ideal for Woods, and he was limping badly on Saturday, but how does this change your opinion on how often we’ll see Woods in majors going forward or how effective he can be?

Hirsh: I think people are getting ahead of themselves when talking about Tiger’s future after this week. He got dealt just about the worst hand he could have been given with the already difficult walk here plus the weather and having to get up early to play multiple rounds. He still made the cut. I think there are slightly healthier days ahead for Woods when he doesn’t have to deal with the plantar fasciitis. I’ll say good chance he skips Oak Hill next month, 50/50 on the U.S. Open in LA, but I’d put money on him being at Hoylake in July.

brooks koepka
Brooks Koepka collapsed on Masters Sunday, but his comeback is for real
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Bastable: Gosh, I don’t know. On Saturday, as I typed for this site, he was limping so badly he looked like he was walking barefoot on broken glass. Yes, the conditions were brutal but that’s as bad as we’ve seen him. Huge props to Woods for making the cut (truly, that’s an incredible accomplishment), but I am not bullish about the rest of his 2023.

Sens: Tiger got caught in a perfect storm this week. And while Oak Hill in May seems like a long shot, I think we will see him make a go at the U.S. Open. He’ll have two months to rest and rehab. It’s hard to picture him being a big factor in majors going forward though. He’s an ancient 47, and he’s up against a wave of young talent that he helped inspire. Tiger himself seems to be coming to grips with that. As tough as that might be for his fans to swallow — the idea of Woods shifting into a more ceremonial role — it’s got to be even tougher for Woods himself.

Marksbury: After what we saw this week, it’s hard to imagine Woods ever getting into contention again. But it’s never wise to underestimate him! I think he’ll continue to pick and choose courses that may be best suited for him. And I was very encouraged to hear him talking about the Champions Tour in such a positive way. Seems crazy to think about, but senior events aren’t far off on his horizon.

Rory McIlroy, who is still chasing a green jacket to close out the career grand slam, came into the week in excellent form and as a betting favorite. But he could only muster rounds of 72-77 and missed the cut for the third time in the last four years. Was McIlroy’s lackluster play more of a physical or mental breakdown?

Hirsh: The stress of trying to lead the war against LIV for the PGA Tour has to be finally weighing on him. This is all mental. Would be good for him to get away for a while, but we’ll see him next week in Hilton Head.

Sens: LIV, shmiv. I can’t imagine that weighed on him here. This was all about Augusta, a place that is clearly in McIlroy’s head. Rory plays a game with which most of us are unfamiliar. But we’ve all experienced the amateur version of the sort of spiral he went into this week. You start to press. Things start moving quickly. Doubt creeps in. Little misses become bigger misses. And so on. You could see it happening to Rory. It was painfully relatable. It was just happening with much more on the line and a much brighter stage, where the margins for error are ridiculously thin.

Bastable: Rory has actually seemed to play his best at the height of his LIV litigating. I have a theory that the off-course stuff has been a good distraction for McIlroy and not allowed him to spend too much time overthinking the on-course stuff. This week, though — as has so often been the case at Augusta — he seemed like he was back in his own head again.

Marksbury: Players always talk about patience at Augusta, but I can imagine that after watching so many players take advantage of the good day of weather by going low, it’s hard to feel like you’re in a deep hole if, like McIlroy, you failed to take advantage. He’s clearly capable of playing well at Augusta, but it seems like his win will ultimately have to be a low-pressure, come-from-behind clubhouse victory to keep those mental demons at bay.

In the lead-up to the week, there was much speculation about the newly lengthened par-5 13th hole to which the club added 35 yards to protect the integrity of the design and better test the field. Mission accomplished?

Hirsh: Love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. I’m not a rollback guy and I’m not a build-an-8,000-yard-golf-course guy, but what Augusta National did here was perfect. Guys were still hitting their tee shots in similar positions as last year, which means they were taking driver instead of 3-wood. I don’t think anyone got much closer than 190, which considering guys used to hit driver over the trees and then wedge in, is a win. Most guys ended up having around 210-240 yards, which is right in the range that makes it the “momentous decision” Jones and Roberts intended it to be. Overall the hole played easier than last year, but that’s more to do with the soft conditions than anything.

Sens: Agreed, Jack. With the wild weather, I’m not sure this week gave us the most accurate barometer of how they’ll attack this hole in the future, but the fact that we won’t likely be seeing 8-irons into the green anymore is a great thing.

Bastable: Fun fact for the haters: there were eight eagles on the 13th hole this week — two more than a year ago! But yeah, overall, I dig the change. Anytime you can make the world’s best golfers deliberate a bit more over a shot, that’s a win for us watching at home.

Jon Rahm opened his Masters with a four-putt. Then he won the tournament and revealed his NFL star friends had some fun with it.
‘Don’t ever do that again’: Jon Rahm shares hilarious Masters jinx by NFL friend
By: Jack Hirsh

Marksbury: I think they got what they wanted. From home, I didn’t notice a difference in the level of excitement. There’s still plenty of drama on the back nine, with or without the added length on 13.

As ever, much unfolded during Masters Week, and we can’t possibly get to it all here. What’s your final thought or takeaway from the tournament, and what storyline didn’t get the publicity it deserved?

Hirsh: Is it possible that it’s Phil Mickelson? I mean where did that come from? I feel like I barely saw him in coverage during the first two days for sure. Was that intentional? Also heard rumors about him being quiet and to himself during the Champions Dinner. I feel like being at Augusta will forever more just be really awkward for him. It’s crazy that he goes from struggling in LIV events to finishing T2 this week.

Sens: Despite the wild weather and all the (very legitimate) talk of Tour vs. LIV tensions heading into the event, the Masters went back to being the Masters, with the same guys playing well who always seem to play well (here’s to you, Fred Couples!) and the noise of the outside world receding. This tournament has always had a strong grip on the game, but now, with the majors only gaining in importance, Augusta’s influence feels more powerful than ever.

Marksbury: Great calls, guys! Phil was definitely a huge surprise — though maybe he shouldn’t have been. One thing that I have always loved about this tournament is the fact that so many players have a history of great play at Augusta. Including Phil! Guys like Jordan and Brooks can seemingly be counted on for good performances. Now Scheffler belongs in that category too. Year in and year out, that familiarity is what makes watching this tournament so wonderful for fans.

Bastable: Given the caddie-advice rules messiness involving Koepka’s looper on Thursday, I can’t help thinking about what would have happened if Koepka had won by a stroke or two. I acknowledge it’s a rarely enforced rule with much gray area, but it’s also hard to look at that video and not deduce that Koepka’s caddie (and Koepka himself) shared club-selection counsel with Gary Woodland’s looper, a violation of the rule book that carries a two-stroke penalty. Had Brooks prevailed Sunday, it could have triggered some awkward questions in his presser. Oh, one final takeaway: the Caprese Grilled Cheese in the clubhouse is scrumptious! Top rec.

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