AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jon Rahm kept hearing how he was destined to win this Masters because so many Spanish stars were aligned in his favor.
Sunday was the birthdate of Seve Ballesteros, his idol and inspiration for playing. This year was the 40-year anniversary of the second Masters title Ballesteros won. If that wasn’t enough, caddie Adam Hayes was assigned white coveralls with No. 49 — April 9.
“I was told a lot of things about why this could be the year,” Rahm said, looking smart as ever in his new green jacket. “And I just didn’t want to buy into it too much.”
His golf was far more valuable than any historical coincidence.
Rahm turned the longest day into his sweetest victory Sunday. The 30-hole marathon finish started with him trailing by four and ended with a walk up to the 18th green that nearly reduced him to tears, and gave him another major that affirmed him as No. 1 in the world.
“We all dream of things like this as players, and you try to visualize what it’s going to be like and what it’s going to feel like,” Rahm said. “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 because of what it means to me, and to Spanish golf,” he said. “It’s Spain’s 10th major, fourth player to win the Masters. It’s pretty incredible.”
It was Mickelson who declared Rahm would be among golf’s biggest stars even before the Spaniard turned pro in 2016. Rahm now has a green jacket to go along with his U.S. Open title he won in 2021 at Torrey Pines.
Rahm made up two shots on Koepka over the final 12 holes of the rain-delayed third round and started the final round two shots behind. He seized on Koepka’s collapse and then surged so far ahead that Mickelson’s amazing closing round — it matched the three-time Masters champion’s best final round ever at Augusta National — was never going to be enough.
The finish was vintage Rahm. He pulled his drive into the pine trees and it ricocheted out, short of where the fairway starts. No problem. He hit 4-iron toward the green and lofted a pitch to 3 feet to end his round with only one bogey.
“An unusual par, very much a Seve par, a testament to him, and I know he was pulling for me today,” said Rahm, who finished at 12-under 276. “And it was a great Sunday.”
Rahm embraced his wife and two children, and as he walked toward the scoring room, there was two-time Masters champion José María Olazábal in his green jacket for the strongest hug of all and a few words that included Ballesteros.
“He said he hopes it’s the first of many more,” Rahm said in Butler Cabin. “We both mentioned something about Seve, and if he had given us 10 more seconds, I think we would have both ended up crying.”
Sergio Garcia was the low amateur in 1999 when Olazábal won his second green jacket, and then Garcia won in 2017, the year Rahm made his Masters debut.
Stars aligned, and Rahm played some world-class golf. And to think he began the tournament with a four-putt double bogey on the opening hole.
Rahm won for the fourth time this year — just as Scottie Scheffler did a year ago when he won the Masters — and reclaimed the No. 1 world ranking from Scheffler.
This Masters had a little bit of everything — hot and humid at the start, a cold front with wind that toppled three trees on Friday, putting surfaces saturated from rain on Saturday and a marathon finish Sunday as Rahm and Koepka went 30 holes.
Koepka had one miscue after another, losing the lead for the first time since Thursday afternoon when he chipped 20 feet past the hole from behind the par-3 sixth and made his second bogey. More would follow.
“Just some days you have it, some days you don’t, and today wasn’t one of those,” Koepka said. “But I feel good, and I expect to be there the other three (majors).”
Koepka went 22 consecutive holes Sunday without a birdie — from the par-5 eighth hole in the morning of the third round until the par-5 13th in final round. By then, he was three shots behind and Rahm all but sealed it with his next shot.
He hit a low cut with an 8-iron from 141 yards around a tree from right of the 14th fairway, and it caught a slope on the green at just the right spot to feed down to 3 feet for birdie. When Koepka three-putted for bogey, it was a matter of finishing.
The leaderboard was littered with major champions and a tinge of Saudi-funded LIV Golf. Mickelson and Koepka both are part of the rival circuit. Former Masters champion Patrick Reed, another player who defected to LIV, closed with a 68 and tied for fourth with Jordan Spieth (66) and Russell Henley.
Tiger Woods wasn’t around for the finish. He withdrew Sunday morning before the third round resumed, saying plantar fasciitis in his foot was aggravating him. Woods also withdrew after three rounds of the PGA Championship last year in similarly cold, windy conditions at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Mickelson barely contends over 54 holes in the 48-man LIV Golf league. And then he played like the six-time major champion who two years ago became the oldest major champion at age 50 when he won the PGA Championship.
He stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 sixth, birdied the seventh and then finished in style. His approach to the 17th came within inches of going in for an eagle, and he pumped his fist when his 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th dropped for a 65.
It matched his lowest score ever at Augusta National — he shot 65 in the opening round in the 1996 Masters and was at his Sunday best.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, but it was really a lot of fun for me to play at this level again, and it’s encouraging for me going forward the rest of the year,” Mickelson said.
Rahm called it an incredible day, especially with his father coming over from Spain. He concluded his remarks at the trophy presentation on the 18th green by saying, “Happy Easter. And rest in peace, Seve.”
He then made the sign of the cross, kissed his finger and pointed to the sky, the clearest it had been all week.
Scottie Scheffler puts the green jacket on Jon Rahm, of Spain, after Rahm won the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 9, 2023, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)