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Jon Rahm Proved He Was Not Only the Best Player at This Masters, But Maybe the Best of This Generation

Jon Rahm managed his game and the pressure perfectly on Sunday afternoon to become the fourth Spaniard to win a green jacket.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Jon Rahm won the Masters, a result that was highly predictable if you watch men’s golf and hard to see coming if you talk about it. Rahm was not the defending champion coming in hot (Scottie Scheffler), the limping legend (Tiger Woods), the idol turned rogue (Phil Mickelson), the face of the PGA Tour (Rory McIlroy), or the revived and macho major specialist (Brooks Koepka). But he dismantled the field here Sunday and showed again what has been clear for a while: He might just be the finest player of his generation.

The Masters has a way of providing drama for four days and clarity on Sunday night. In real time, this felt like a tight race. Viewed through the rearview mirror, Rahm dominated. He now has two major championships,

Rahm began the week with a four-putt double bogey and still won by four strokes. At one point during the rain-delayed third round Sunday morning, Koepka led Rahm by four shots, but it had not really been a fair fight. Koepka played his first two rounds in ideal scoring conditions; he finished midday Friday. Rahm played most of his second round in the worst Masters weather in memory: a maelstrom of cold winds and rain that shot scores upward. When a reporter mentioned Sunday night that perhaps Rahm was on the wrong side of the draw, Rahm said: “Did you say I was perhaps on the bad side of the draw? Perhaps?”

All those rain delays were also a Rahm delay. Four players began Sunday’s final round within five shots of the lead, including Koepka, who led at 11 under. Three of them shot 75, 74, 75. Rahm shot 69. There were moments when it seemed like Koepka, Mickelson or Jordan Spieth might win. But as Rahm approached the 18th green, Koepka’s wife Jena watched on TV from a chair in the clubhouse, Spieth watched from over near the bar, and Mickelson was upstairs at a table with his wife, Amy. Everybody understood it was over.

“I never thought I would cry about winning a golf tournament,” Rahm said, “but I got very close on the 18th hole.”

Rahm is now the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters. He does not have the flair of Seve Ballesteros but is much steadier off the tee, even accounting for technology. He is more talented than two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal and so much tougher than Sergio Garcia. Since the PGA Tour returned from its COVID-19 hiatus in June 2020, Rahm has won eight tournaments. (That would probably be nine, but he had to withdraw from the 2021 Memorial after testing positive for COVID-19. Rahm had a six-shot lead entering the final round.)

He is 28 years old.

Rahm’s swing is unattractive but oddly riveting, an abbreviated backswing followed by a muscular thwack, as though he custom-ordered a swing that would only fit him. In a way, he did: Rahm was born with a club foot, and he has said his right foot can only handle so much pressure. Very few players can generate so much power with so little torque, but the lack of movement in his swing might explain why he repeats it so easily under pressure. Two years ago, Rahm shot a 67 with a birdie-birdie finish to win the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and now he has added a 69 to win the Masters.

Rahm used to have a nasty temper on the course, and at times, he looked like his fire might seriously limit his career, the way fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia’s petulance kept him from ever becoming the player he should have been. But this week, Rahm was the right kind of intense, pounding drives no matter what he did on the previous green. He hit 86 percent of his fairways for the week, ultimately rendering his average putting (he had five-three putts) irrelevant.

He said afterward that he did feel the pressure: “What’s going on on the outside is not always a reflection of the inside.” But he said the only time he got upset was after a rough stretch late in the third round when he felt gave away shots.

Koepka portrayed himself as unlucky: “I didn’t feel like I did too much wrong, but that’s how golf goes sometimes.” Koepka likes to seem invincible – perhaps out of vanity, but it is also a trick he played on himself during his four major wins.

In Koepka’s telling, pressure is something that affects other people. That’s fine. But he had more than his share of good fortune this week, from his Thursday/Friday tee times to several big breaks on Sunday: a drive on 10 in the third round that could have stayed in a bush but ended on the pine straw; a shot on 15 that could have spun back into the water but stopped because the grass was so wet; a drive to start the fourth round that was so atrocious, it wound up on the adjoining ninth fairway, giving him a clear shot at the green.

Koepka had a very good week. But Rahm clearly outplayed him and everybody else. The players who made a run Sunday began their rounds without pressure. Let’s not pretend Patrick Reed’s 68 or Sahith Theegala’s 67 were as impressive as Rahm’s 69.

As Rahm came off the 9th green, he saw that Spieth and Mickelson were coming for him. He played the final nine with the kind of consistency that comes from extreme levels of talent, poise and preparation.

He left himself tap-ins. He properly judged the wind on the famously fickle par-3 12th hole and hit his tee shot almost exactly where he aimed. He correctly evaluated the security of his lead and proceeded wisely. With a three-shot lead on the newly elongated par-5 13th, Rahm hit his drive on the left, flatter side of the fairway, then smartly went for the green in two; he was in too good of a position with too much time left to be conservative. But after increasing his lead to four with four holes left, Rahm turned the par-5 15th into a three-shot hole and took his par. The only sign of nerves came on his tee shot at 18, but like Scheffler on the 18th green last year, Rahm could afford a mistake or two.

Rahm said throughout the day, he heard fans say Ballesteros’s name, and Rahm has such deep passion for Spain’s golf history that he might have missed another message from the gallery. Koepka is an American four-time major champion, but Rahm was clearly the crowd favorite. You can probably guess why. This was a victory for the PGA Tour over LIV, and for Rahmbo over the LIV-bots, but mostly it was a reminder that there are so many outstanding players in the world at this moment, and Jon Rahm Rodriguez is the best of them.