AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Brooks Koepka will no doubt hear the same murmured joke no matter where he goes in the coming days and weeks.
If only the Masters was 54 holes.
Like those tournaments on the Saudi-back LIV Golf circuit.
If that was the case, Koepka would’ve been wearing a green jacket on the 18th green at Augusta National, rather than making the dejected march from there to the locker room. He had a four-shot lead over Jon Rahm when they resumed third rounds that had been halted by weather, and a two-shot lead when the round finished, before shooting 3-over 75 in his final round.
Rahm closed with a 69 to finish at 12 under. By the time Koepka slid a birdie putt past on his 72nd hole, he was left at 8 under and tied for second with LIV Golf compatriot Phil Mickelson, whose finishing 65 had sent him shooting up the leaderboard.
The previous three times Koepka had a 54-hole lead in a major, he went on to win.
“Obviously it’s super disappointing, right? Didn’t play good enough to win,” he said. “Hit some shots where I also didn’t feel like I got some good breaks. … Didn’t feel like I did too much wrong but that’s how golf goes sometimes.”
Koepka opened with a near-flawless 65, then took advantage of a favorable tee time to shoot 67 while dodging storms that derailed most of the second round. Koepka hung tough when driving rain greeted players Saturday, and was still holding onto a four-shot lead when Augusta National grew so waterlogged that the third round could not be continued.
Half of that lead was gone in the first 30 seconds of play Sunday.
Picking up where they left off on the seventh hole, Rahm made birdie and Koepka made bogey, and that two-shot swing set the tone for the rest of the day. Koepka maintained his lead for the rest of the third round, but the birdie binge that he’d been on the first couple of days dried up and Rahm swept past him on the front nine of the final round.
“The way Jon played today was pretty impressive,” Koepka said.
“It’s not match play, but early on, it kind of felt like it, right?” Rahm said. “Before people made all those birdies, I mean, we were 10, 11, after the birdie on 3, 10-, 11-under, and then the closest was 5-under. So it felt like that situation, where I wasn’t expecting Brooks to play bad. I can’t expect that, right? So I need to bring the fight to him.”
At one point, Koepka went 22 straight holes Sunday without a birdie, dropping from 13 under to start the day to 7 under. He finally made birdie at the 13th to get back to 8 under, but Rahm rammed in his birdie putt on top of him.
That allowed the Spaniard to maintain a three-shot lead with five holes to play and effectively ended Koepka’s hopes.
“It was just be patient, probably, until about 13, and then we had to be a little more aggressive,” Koepka said. “It is what it is. I tried. I gave it my all. I can go to sleep at night.”
Augusta National has turned into a vexing place for Koepka, who signed with LIV Golf for a reported $100 million and became the first to win twice in the league’s first 10 events with last week’s victory in Orlando, Florida.
Koepka missed the 2018 Masters with a wrist injury. He came oh-so-close to winning the following year, finishing a shot back of Tiger Woods, who won his fifth title. When Koepka tried to play the 2021 tournament three weeks after surgery to repair a shattered knee cap, he missed the cut. He missed it again last year, saying later that he was so frustrated that he twice tried — and twice failed — to smash out the back window of his courtesy car.
No word on how his car fared Sunday.
One of the prevailing questions coming into the Masters was whether players who chased the LIV Golf money would be sharp for the season’s first major. They’d played just three tournaments, each three rounds, and with no cuts and guaranteed purses, and that provided ample reason to believe they would struggle to keep up.
The 52-year-old Mickelson showed he still has game. So did Patrick Reed, whose closing 68 left him tied with Jordan Spieth and Russell Henley in fourth, and Joaquin Niemann, who ended up at 2 under and tied for 16th.
Koepka showed he still has game, too. Especially over three rounds.
“I mean, we’re still the same people. I know if I’m healthy I can compete,” he said. “I don’t think any of the guys that played this event thinks otherwise, either.”
Dave Skretta, The Associated Press