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Jon Rahm produced a nerveless performance to claim his first Masters green jacket in dominant but emotional style at Augusta National, in the perfect tribute to the late Seve Ballesteros.
Forty years after Ballesteros claimed his second green jacket, and on what would have been his 66th birthday on Sunday, Rahm became the fourth Spanish winner after Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia.
The fourth and final round of a wild week at Augusta looked set to be a shootout between Rahm and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka – who at one point had feared a knee injury would ruin his chances of ever being competitive at majors again.
Fit once more, Koepka actually led by four shots heading into Sunday, after bad weather forced play to be abandoned midway through Saturday’s third round, but by the time that belated third round had concluded, his advantage over Rahm was down to two strokes.
And as the American headed backwards in the fourth round, his Spanish foe relentlessly marched on and claimed his second major title – adding to his 2021 US Open crown – by carding a 69 to end on 12-under, a four-shot triumph over Koepka and a rejuvenated Phil Mickelson, who shot a magical Sunday 65 at the age of 52 to end in a tie for second on -8.
It wasn’t the high-stakes Sunday shootout that it had promised to be at one point but that was due to Rahm’s ruthless brilliance and the 28-year-old was a deserved and popular winner, adding a second major that his talent more than warrants.
It was a remarkable recovery by Rahm, who had opened his tournament by four-putting the opening hole on Thursday to begin with a double bogey. Yet that was all forgotten by the end of a sparkling Sunday.
Koepka struggled to a final round of 75 and it was Mickelson who put the most pressure on Rahm with a brilliant 65 to equal his lowest score at Augusta, his other coming in the first round 27 years ago.
Phil Mickelson swept aside recent controversies to post a brilliant final round of 65
Mickelson’s late charge came on the back of just two top-20 finishes from 10 LIV Golf events, which only have a 48-man field.
And it also came a year after he sat out the Masters following the fall-out from his explosive comments about the Saudi-funded breakaway and the PGA Tour, with chairman Fred Ridley forced to deny the 52-year-old had been disinvited.
Rahm and Koepka had got off to a nervous start in the final round and Koepka’s pulled opening tee shot was so far wide that he played his second from the ninth fairway.
The four-time major winner hit a superb recovery shot over the trees and safely made par as Rahm had to hole from 8ft for his after missing the green and catching the edge of the hole with his chip.
Rahm birdied the third and with Koepka unable to save par from a greenside bunker on the par-three fourth, they were tied for the lead and seemingly back in a two-horse race as Viktor Hovland took four to get down from just over the sixth green.
The same hole also cost Koepka a second bogey in the space of three holes to leave Rahm in the outright lead, a remarkable turn of events given that he started the week with a six on the opening hole.
The only previous player to win the Masters after starting with a double bogey was Sam Snead in 1952.
Rahm doubled his advantage with a birdie on the par-five eighth, the world No 3 hitting a sublime pitch from the front of the green to tap-in distance.
Jon Rahm performed brilliantly to win the green jacket
A bogey on the ninth dropped him back to 10-under and gave hope to the chasing pack, Mickelson making five birdies in his last seven holes to set the target on eight-under in a bid to break his own record as the game’s oldest major champion.
“To come out today and play the way I did and hit the shots when I needed, it’s so much fun,” Mickelson said. “I’m grateful to be a part of this tournament and to be here competing and then to play well, it means a lot.”
Mickelson was reluctant to say more as Rahm still had plenty of danger to navigate, but birdies on the 13th and 14th – the latter from close range after a superb approach – gave Rahm more than enough breathing space.
Jordan Spieth had also reached eight under with his ninth birdie of the day on the 17th, only to bogey the last and card a 66 to share fourth place with Patrick Reed and Russell Henley.
“When you’re that far back, you have to have everything go right. It was close, but I should have done a lot better in those first three rounds,” Spieth said.
“I made a tremendous amount of mental mistakes. To be this close now, it’s nice, but it also almost frustrates me more because I made some mistakes I don’t normally make out here.”
Additional reporting by PA