AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks KoepkaHe has done this flawlessly. He has been the clear best Augusta National player this week. The luck of the draw has also favored the four-time major winner. After Saturdays suspension of third-round play, Koepka is now only 30 holes away from his fifth major.
Koepka completed his round with the sun still shining through the growing gray clouds. His tournament-leading score of 12-under was achieved as the weather worsened. The afternoon wave was forced to play in windier, wetter and tree-tumbling conditions.
Koepka returned Saturday morning to a course that was much longer, colder and more wet. He started a third round that lasted just a few hours. It was six holes for the leaders. He was able to extend his lead but play was halted again by the squall. He birdied the opening hole and watched the field behind him struggle to keep up. He had a two-shot lead by the time the horn sounded. Jon RahmAmateur was the next closest player. Sam BennettBelow 6
With no rain forecast, the weather should be sunny and the course will be softer, its possible for anything to happen. But there is something about Koepkas play that reminds me of a time when he was the dominant player in the world. It felt like no one else had a chance if Koepka was playing at a major.
Koepka did not show up to the first major this year featuring LIV golf players. He has just ignored it. Although the draw helped, its not hard to see that his overall approach and process was just as important for his success as he is now at the brink of a fifth major title.
Here are some things to look out for on the last day of the Masters.
The Brooks Koepka Story arc
If any other multimajor winner had suffered a terrible knee injury that had stalled their fast-rising careers the way Koepka did, only to come back at The Masters and win it… Tiger WoodsHowever, it would make for an interesting tale that would delight sportswriters.
Koepka is much more than a tidy-packaged comeback story. He doesnt succumb to stock quotes that are meant to fit in with the stories of those asking him. He has been more vulnerable and sincere, but only when he wants to be. He clearly cares about winning, but he seems a bit reticent. Oh, and he even admitted this week that his health had prevented him from running to LIV. He was forced to punch the window of a Mercedes by his inability to make the cut at the 2021 Masters.
Sunday is a fascinating day because of all this. Koepka is back to his best, dominating par 5,s (under through nine) and putting in clutch par putts like an engine. The golf world isnt the same place it was when he last flourished. He doesnt win to add to his major count, or to get closer to the grand slam. It means LIV will now have a player who has won a major since its inception. This means that his success will be used as a weapon to support arguments and encourage the ongoing battle between tours, even though its players deny the animosity this week.
Rahm was also asked Saturday how Koepka would fare playing 29 holes in a day because hes probablynot used to playing so many.
Rahm stated that Rahm doesnt believe that this means much. When youre at this point, adrenaline kicks in and that doesnt really matter.
Koepka seems indifferent to such trivial matters. He is focused on winning majors, as he has stated it unabashedly in the past. He struggled at LIV up until last week, when his Orlando event was won ahead of the Masters. It was almost as if he knew that he needed to flip the switch. Now, he has done it and reminds the golf world that no matter what tour he plays on, it doesnt really matter. If he is healthy, any major he shows-up to could be his.
Can anyone catch Koepka
Not a huge lead, four shots at Augusta with over one and a quarter rounds to play is not. The question is, who can step in and do it?
Rahm is a skilled player, its clear. The Spaniard struggled Saturday afternoon with the windy, wet conditions and bogeyed two of his six first holes. Perhaps a restart tomorrow and a reset is what Rahm needed. Rahm thrives in being able to drive the ball for miles. The sudden change from Augusta, which was hot and humid, to Augusta, which was cold and rainy hasnt helped. This is a case in point: His driving distance dropped nearly 35 yards between the first round and Saturdays six holes.
Rahm has an adjusted driver this week which has helped him hit 84% of fairways. However, he will need to improve his approach game and putting if there is any chance of him catching Koepka or winning his fourth tournament of the year on Sunday.
Rahm said, Im feeling confident, after the third round was halted. Playing good golf is important and theres still a lot to do.
Below Rahm is a field that may require not only low weekend rounds Sunday but also for Koepka falter to win. Amateur Bennett has been one the most exciting stories of the week, but a second-bogey start has made him fall behind the eight ball. The Cinderella story may be over before the final round begins.
If there is a player that could be in the mix with a strong finish in the third round Sunday morning, it is this one Collin MorikawaMorikawa is currently at 5 under and has 11 holes to play. Morikawa was 7 under on Saturday, but the weather turned sour and he bogeyed the last two holes.
The eight shots that are rounding out the group are Patrick Cantlay, Matt FitzpatrickAnd Viktor Hovland, who was the first round leader. Id still choose Morikawa to those guys, but Cameron YoungThe 4 under par is equally intriguing. The 25-year old has been quiet all week, with the exception of a few mistakes that have set his back. Hes made two double bogeys in nine holes and could make some noise at the back on Sunday.
Phil Mickelson watch
Much like Koepka wasnt the LIV player that many expected would thrive in Augusta this week (see also: Cameron SmithAnd Dustin Johnson), Phil MickelsonIt is an even more amazing reality to be in the top-10 with 30 holes to play at the Masters.
Yes, there is a reason — Mickelson himself talking about how it doesnt take him to be perfect on the course — but its still shocking that a player whos struggled for so long to get to this point in his career find himself in such a position.
Mickelson stated, Im going on a tear pretty soon. You wouldnt believe it. Look at the scores. Ive been playing exactly as I did yesterday, hitting the ball great and turning 65s,66s into 77s. Im ready for a big scream.
Mickelson: How did he do it? The answer is simple: putting. He has only one three-putt throughout the week and leads the field at the greens. Mickelson reached 6 under on Saturday morning after hitting a 40 foot putt for birdie at the 6th green. Mickelson was somewhat beaten down by two bogeys the next two holes. But, it is clear that this is the most enjoyable golf hes ever played. Mickelson also said this week was a result of a driver improvement, thanks to Brendan Steele (one of my teammates).
LIV will undoubtedly be the storyline that surfaced if Mickelson and Koepka win. Its not only them — Joaquin NiemannHe is currently tied for eighth at 4 under, while 12 LIV players made it to the finals this week. Koepka seems to be trying to avoid linking this weeks success to LIV. However, I suspect that if he puts on the green jacket Sunday, LIVs stakeholders Greg Norman will be a lot more interested in it.
Woods needed a bogey Justin ThomasTo make the cut, Thomas gave him two clubs on Saturday morning. Thomas gave Thomas two and missed the cut. Woods was likely to be out of Augusta by that time.
The five-time champion extended that streak to 23 made cut at the Masters (tying). Fred CouplesGary Player for the most ever), but the rest of the day was not ideal. Woods played seven holes before play halted Saturday afternoon. He bogeyed 2, put two balls in water on different holes, and had two doublebogeys. Woods is currently in last place among the players who made it to Sundays cut.
It was more that the numbers. Woods looked unhappy as he struggled through the difficult conditions. He was also grimacing more than he had in the past two days. Woods was likely suspended at the right time, but he will have to walk 29 holes on Sunday for his leg. Woods chances of withdrawing are slim to none, though its difficult to imagine this being a better scenario considering his physical condition and the fact that he plays for pride only. This could be enough to see him in red tomorrow.