By Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent, Augusta
Jon Rahm held off an unlikely challenge from Phil Mickelson as he powered to his second major title in the 87th Masters.
Forty years after the late Seve Ballesteros won his second Masters title and on what would have been his 66th birthday, Rahm became the fourth Spanish winner at Augusta National after Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia.
The 2021 US Open champion, who had four-putted the first hole on Thursday, carded a closing 69 to finish 12 under par, four shots clear of Mickelson and long-time leader Brooks Koepka.
A sixth Green Jacket for Spain. #themasters pic.twitter.com/aUBOImCcx6
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 9, 2023
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.
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 began the day four shots behind Koepka, but had cut that gap in half by the time the pair had completed their delayed third rounds on Sunday morning, both men shooting 73.
Reunited almost three hours later for round four, the final pair got off to a nervous start 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 eight feet 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.
Jon Rahm is now one stroke off the lead. #themasters pic.twitter.com/bK5CQJuV8U
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 9, 2023
The only 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 number three hitting a sublime pitch from the front of the green to tap-in distance.
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.”
Koepka enjoyed a four-shot lead overnight, but had been facing a par putt on the seventh green when play was suspended on Saturday afternoon, with Rahm closer to the hole in two.
Koepka missed and Rahm holed from nine feet to halve his deficit before the pair traded bogeys on the 12th and 13th. Rahm’s bogey on the 16th left him three behind, only for Koepka to three-putt the 17th from just 24 feet.