Saturday 65 gives Jon Rahm a sliver of hope. It might be all he needs

April 8, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jon Rahm loves himself some Augusta National. He loves the positive atmosphere, how the course rewards creativity and how the patrons are oh-so-respectful. He loves it all … but not the 7th hole.

“I think out of those 18 holes, 17 suit my eye perfectly,” Rahm said. “The one that doesn’t is 7, and I don’t think it suits anybody’s eye.”

No. 7 is named Pampas, and it plays as a brutal 450-yard par 4. Entering the day with six career Masters rounds, Rahm had bogeyed Pampas half the time and never made a birdie. That is why he focuses intently on Pampas when playing Augusta National. Survive it, and survive the six before it, and Rahm starts licking his lips.

He considered it a blessing that he sat there Saturday afternoon, staring down a 7-foot birdie try on Pampas. Even when he missed the putt, Rahm was two under for the day and knew three, four, or five under could be ahead. Almost immediately, he got aggressive.

From 32 yards short and right of the 8th pin, Rahm sent a flighted pitch hopping once, twice and rolling toward the cup. It collided with the flagstick and fell in for an eagle.

That 8th hole was the type of moment where imaginations soar at the Masters. All of a sudden, Spanish reign over Augusta National became serious again. Sure, Sergio Garcia won a year ago and Rafa Cabrera-Bello even held the lead Friday afternoon, but none of Spain’s three all-world players had planted their red and yellow flag onto this year’s tournament until Rahm’s eagle pushed him to five under, four off the lead. The odds of an all-Spanish green jacket ceremony suddenly spiked.

It would add one helluva chapter to the storied history of Spaniards at Augusta National. Rahm, just 23 and forward-thinking, has naturally committed much of it to memory.

“Maybe the Spanish character and the Spanish game is built for this place, right,” Rahm said. “If [Seve Ballesteros and Garcia] have done it before and if Miguel [Angel Jimenez] has had a good history…and Ramón Sota had a good history here before, why couldn’t I follow that?”

It’s a fun question to think about, but here at the 2018 Masters, there are a few ‘R’easons: Rickie, Rory and Reed — the guys at 9, 11 and 14 under, respectively, all of them ahead of the Spaniard at 8, who played guinea pig for them Saturday. Rahm teed off at 1:20 p.m., multiple groups ahead, providing the first answer to the question “How gettable was Augusta National?” For the best in the world, very gettable. Rahm’s 65 strokes were a prelude to Fowler and McIlroy shooting 65s of their own.

“Shooting 7 under here is like shooting 15 under somewhere else,” Rahm said before adding that pros are “making it look a little easier than what it is out there.”

He did make it look easy. So easy it’s almost certain Rahm will win a green jacket one day. That’s the vibe you get watching his game produce four wins worldwide before the age of 24. It’s even more real when he plays 29 consecutive holes bogey-free at Augusta National, as he’s done since bogeying, of course, Pampas on Friday afternoon.

And yet, Rahm’s greatest round — a 15-under in his “somewhere else” course theory — might not be enough. This event might still be out of his control. In golf, you can’t play literal defense. All you can do is shoot your lowest score and see if the echoing patrons rattle another player’s psyche.

It has become painfully clear that Patrick Reed will own this Masters until some player does exactly that. The remaining distance between Rahm and Reed was never more apparent than during Rahm’s press conference Saturday evening.

“If you can get a really good start on that front nine and post a good score again, that back nine can be extremely long for the leaders,” Rahm said optimistically. “It’s happened many times where a big lead disappears or even get cut down.” 

He glanced to the right to check the current leaderboard. At that moment, some 800 yards away, Reed pitched in for a 3 on the 15th hole. All of a sudden, Rahm wasn’t so confident.

“Oh, he made another eagle — there we go,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to imagine [winning] after that. Hopefully I have a chance.”