By DOUG FERGUSON (AP Golf Writer)
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Jon Rahm turned the longest day into his sweetest victory, starting Sunday with a four-shot deficit in the morning chill and finishing in fading sunlight as the fourth Spaniard to become a Masters champion.
Rahm closed with a 3-under 69 to pull away from mistake-prone Brooks Koepka. He won by four shots over Koepka and 52-year-old Phil Mickelson, who turned in a tournament-best 65. He is the oldest runner-up in Masters history.
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 — the best final round ever at Augusta National for the three-time Masters champion — was never going to be enough.
Nothing was more satisfying than an uphill climb to the 18th green to claim the green jacket on a day when Spanish stars aligned. Sunday is the birthdate of his idol, the late Seve Ballesteros, and this is the 40-year anniversary of Ballesteros winning his second Masters title.
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.
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 helped to pave the way with 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. There would be more to come.
Worse yet, 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 around a tree from right of the 14th fairway and it caught a slope just right on the 14th green and fed down to 3 feet for a birdie. When Koepka three-putted for bogey, it was a matter of finishing.
Rahm hooked his tee shot into the trees on the final hole and didn’t reach the fairway. No matter. He played up the fairway, hit wedge to 3 feet and tapped in for the victory.
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.
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