Rahm enjoys Masters magic, Finau in fine form
By Helen Ross
There’s something about Spaniards and Augusta National
Maybe it’s the creativity needed to negotiate those vexing undulating greens or escape the abundant loblolly pines like Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal always seemed to do. Or maybe it’s the shot-making prowess Sergio Garcia displayed when he followed his idols and won the green jacket in 2017.
But just maybe it’s some of all three – with a little bit of fate mixed in. At least that’s what it seemed like on Easter Sunday when Jon Rahm won the Masters Tournament on what would have been Ballesteros’ 66th birthday.
Rahm dedicated the victory, which moved him back to No. 1 in the world, to the charismatic five-time major champion who died in 2011 at the age of 54 after battling brain cancer.
“Pretty much every great-name Spanish player has won here,” Rahm said. “There’s got to be something here about having a Spanish passport, I don’t know, there’s something about the grounds that transmits into all of us.”
The 26-year-old Arizona State grad set the tone early on Sunday morning when he returned to the seventh hole and made a 9-footer for birdie. Minutes earlier, Brooks Koepka had missed a par putt from 11 feet so suddenly the American’s four-shot overnight lead was just 2. The margin remained two shots at the end of the third round. Rahm seized control early in the third round, though, with a front-nine 35 while Koepka, a four-time major champion, stumbled, making three bogeys to trail by two at the turn.
Rahm’s final nine holes were textbook as he patiently dissected the course on the way to a 69 and a 12-under total. Koepka never regained any traction on the homeward nine, making three birdies but offsetting each with bogeys to fall back into a tie with a hard-charging Phil Mickelson, four strokes in arrears.
Matt Fitzpatrick gets No. 2
Just as Spaniards have an affinity for Augusta National, Matt Fitzpatrick loves Pete Dye’s Harbour Town Golf Links. The Englishman says the Pete Dye gem is one of his favourite courses – second only to the one that hosts the Masters – which is hardly a surprise. Fitzpatrick has been coming to Hilton Head, South Carolina with his family since 2000 when he was six years old.
While he’d had mixed results at Harbour Town – three missed cuts and just one top 10 as a pro – Fitzpatrick still loved the tournament. And the reigning U.S. Open champion finally found the winning combination this year, outlasting Jordan Spieth on the third hole of sudden death.
“I think I can retire now,” Fitzpatrick joked. “Yeah, this one is the one that I’ve always wanted to win. Any golf tournament, other than the majors, of course, there isn’t a higher one on my list than to win this one, and that’s the truth.”
The win came courtesy of a brilliant 9-iron to a foot at the 18th after Spieth had agonizingly teased the cup on the two previous playoff holes. That may have been an easy tap-in, but it was truly Fitzpatrick’s work with the putter throughout the week that sealed the victory.
He was +10.95 in Strokes Gained: Putting – which was second only to his performance at the 2022 U.S. Open in that category for Fitzpatrick’s career. He only needed 101 putts for the week, his lowest total ever, and did not miss from inside 7 feet for the fifth time on the PGA TOUR.
Not coincidentally, Fitzpatrick has made 63 of 63 putts from that distance twice at Harbour Town and he’s only missed four of the 157 puts from inside 7 feet that he’s taken on the small Pete Dye greens in the last three years.
Better late than never for Hardy, Davis
Up until three weeks before the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Nick Hardy and Davis Riley were not even sure of competing in the TOUR’s only two-man team event until they connected via text. A record winning score of 30-under 258 at TPC Louisiana made sure they’d made the right choice to partner up.
The American duo became the latest first-time winners, and walked away with cheques of US$1.24 million each, Mardi Grass-styled bead necklaces and alligator skin championship belts which will remind them of their wise decision to team up at the last minute.
“We were cracking up because this all kind of transpired kind of last minute,” Riley said. “We didn’t have a partner as of three weeks ago, so I’m really excited that it worked out the way it did.”
Hardy, 27, and Davis, who is a year younger, birdied four of their final six holes in the more difficult Foursomes format in the final round to seal a two-stroke win. They began the final day three back and a closing 65 saw them eclipse the previous tournament record held by 2022 champions, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. The duo brilliantly kept their cards clean over the final two rounds.
Finau in fine form
There’s an old saying that goes “you wait ages for a bus and then two comes along”, and it kind of rhymes with the way Tony Finau’s career has been trending. The likeable American powered his way to a sixth PGA TOUR victory at the Mexico Open at Vidanta, taking down newly crowned Masters champion and close friend Jon Rahm by four strokes. It was Finau’s fifth win in his last 41 starts compared to one victory in his first 188 starts.
“I played great golf all week. Every day I was striking the golf ball really nicely, but the biggest thing is I was able to convert the birdie putts that I really needed to and some of the par saves that were momentum swingers for me. I knew today was going to be a tall task going against Rahmbo with the form that he’s in. I was really put to the test and came out on top, which feels great,” said Finau, who finished runner-up in Mexico to Rahm last year.
The 33-year-old has proven he can get real hot down the stretch at the Vidanta Vallarta course, going 23-under from Hole Nos. 12-16 over the past two years, the lowest score to par of any player in that stretch of holes. He also snared 27 birdies all week, which tied his second highest haul in his TOUR career. Finau also became only the sixth player to win four times across 18 starts on the PGA TOUR over the past two seasons.