Mother Nature halts Masters but Brooks Koepka in no mood to be stopped at Augusta
When play resumes early on Sunday morning in the 87th Masters, the American will hold a four-shot lead over Spaniard Jon Rahm and, having negotiated 29 holes without a bogey, Koepka looks in the mood to show he is, indeed, back to his best after a torrid time with injuries.
After Rahm, young American amateur Sam Bennett is the next closest challenger, but he’s six back, while US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay all sit seven behind at the restart.
It had been wet when 39 players returned at 8am on Saturday to complete their second circuits after a band of wet stuff swept into the Augusta area on Friday afternoon, forcing two separate suspensions.
The skies brightened a bit around lunchtime before the rain returned and a deluge over a couple of hours eventually flooded the greens. Augusta National has a sub-air system and, though it helped get as much play as possible, there’s only so much that any green can take before becoming flooded.
“Yeah, it's obviously super difficult,” said Kopeka, a four-time major winner, of the challenging conditions. “Ball's not going anywhere. You've got rain to deal with, and it's freezing cold. It doesn't make it easy. You've got to make some pressure putts. You know it was going to be a difficult day. You've just got to grind through it and try to salvage something.”
Along with Rahm and Bennett in the final group, Koepka faces 29 holes on Sunday as he bids to become the first player to win a major flying the LIV Golf flag, having been one of the marquee signings by Greg Norman for the breakaway circuit.
“I'm not too concerned about playing 29 holes or however many holes we've got left,” he insisted. “It's part of the deal. I'm pretty sure I'll be up for it considering it is the Masters. So I don't think anybody should have a problem with that.”
Rahm, who is bidding to join Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia on a list of Spanish winners here, was among those who were back early to complete their second circuits, adding a 69 to his opening 65 to sit just two behind Koepka at the halfway stage.
The 2021 US Open winner quickly found himself four behind after dropping back-to-back shot at the fourth and fifth in the penultimate circuit, but with Koepka facing an 11-footer to save par at the seventh and Rahm having a nine-footer for birdie, a two-shot swing could be on the cards right at the start on Sunday.
“Oh, it's hard to say,” replied Rahm to being asked if the call to end play could have been made a bit earlier. “You can't really say it was late because I don't blame them for wanting us to play as much as possible. The elements are what they are. Early this morning it was very cold. We enjoyed a couple holes without any rain, but there was a couple, those two holes at the end, 17 and 18 were two absolute monsters. Very happy to finish those in even par.”
Looking ahead to Sunday, when a win for him would come on the 40th anniversary of Ballesteros claiming his second Green Jacket and also the day that would have been his 66th birthday, Rahm said: “Feeling confident, playing good golf and there's a lot to be played.”
After making his 23rd consecutive cut in the event to tie with Fred Couples and Gary Player for that record, five-time winner Tiger Woods had slipped to last out of the 54 players to progress after making back-to-back double-bogeys at the 15th and 16th shortly before play stopped.
During the third round, event officials announced a record prize fund of $18 million (£14.49m), an increase of 20 per cent from last year. The winner will pocket £2.6m.
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