Masters ’23: Hovland, Koepka, Rahm tied

Augusta, Georgia –

Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka shared the lead at Thursday’s Masters, but that’s all they have in common.

Not how they started the round at Augusta National. Certainly not the tours they represent: Rahm is a PGA Tour loyalist and Koepka is an abrupt departure from LIV Golf.

All that mattered was a 7 under 65 on the card, which allowed him to join Victor Hovland on a leaderboard filled with red numbers and ominous “weather warning” signs.

Bad predictions have been made about how Saudi-backed LIV Golf’s 18 players will perform under the pressure of the high stakes of a major over 72 holes with cuts.

Koepka was holding the flag, but he was thrilled to have healthy legs and a bit of confidence that once led to his reputation as “Big Game Brooks.”

“Everything changes when you feel better,” Koepka said.

Rahm opened with a four-putt double bogey and on the way to the second tee remembered the famous words of Spanish idol Seve Ballesteros, who once hit a four-putt at Augusta. , I make. “

“If you’re going to double-putt or four-putt, you might as well fill it in on the first hole, which is 71,” Rahm said.

what he did. The Spaniard followed with his 7 birdies and 1 eagle, his 65 being his lowest score in Masters history starting with a double his bogey.

Koepka had two birdies on the first three holes and didn’t slow down, finishing 65 holes with consecutive birdies. He won his LIV Golf on Sunday, becoming the first multiple winner on the fledgling circuit.

Koepka won the 2019 PGA Championship (his fourth major in three years), giving him a five-year exemption from the Masters. That will be gone next year, and with LIV unable to earn world ranking points, his path to Augusta is limited.

“If we win, we’ll be fine,” he said.

Hovland was one of the early starters and played without a bogey. The highlight was on the second hole he hit a 25 foot eagle he putt and at the end he was 7 under on the 13th hole until he cooled down. The Norwegian star also stood out for other reasons. Early blooming azaleas are starting to change color. Hovland made up for it with a shirt.

“It’s definitely a little bit there,” Hovland said. “But I think it’s better than the pink pants I wore last year.

Almost everyone got good scores due to the warm, muggy air and relatively soft greens. Cameron Young and Jason Day are 67.

Defending champion Scotty Schaeffler is the fourth player to win back-to-back titles and is part of a group that includes 68-year-old major champion Shane Lowry, Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, Xander Schauffle and US amateur champion Sam Bennett. bottom.

Missing the red number was Tiger Woods, who has to worry about the chance to wear a red shirt on Sunday. He’s never missed a professional cut at the Masters and has some work to do if he wants to keep up his streak.

Woods had a few rip-outs and was limping. Woods has seen many birdies – he has played with Hoeland and Schauffele – but he himself has only one birdie in 14 holes. He had a late spark until finishing with a bogey of 74.

It was his best start at the Masters since 2005. He won that year, but this is Woods, 47, with hardware holding his right leg together and five surgeries on his back, which he said hurt. he saw the part

“Most people are sluggish today. Today was the day to do that,” Woods said. “Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be a little better, a little sharper, and we’ll be able to take a little step forward.”

Woods wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the advantage. Rory McIlroy needed his jacket on the Masters Green to achieve his slam of a career grand, but on the par 4 he doubled his bogey off a tree on the 7th hole, plus he bogeyed his third with a third bogey. offset the good play of . He finished with seven shots already at 72 behind the world-class leaderboard.

Rahm was playing exceptionally well just a month ago, but he seemed unstoppable. He won three in his first five starts on the PGA Tour, all against powerhouses. And he quickly dropped from first to third as Schaeffler and McIlroy surged.

Think of his opening round, or even his 4-putt double bogey. It’s a reminder that his game is sharp and his passion is burning hot to be the next Spaniard to win the Masters.

It was a good sign that he remembered Ballesteros’ funny line right after his shocking start. He thought his putting his stroke suited them all. So he moved on. Rahm hit every fairway, but he missed only one green.

He hit a 4-iron from 249 yards on the par-5 eighth, which caught the ridge side of the green and flew four feet for the eagle. He birdied four of his final six holes, and on the 18th he finished with an 8-iron that made him fly three feet.

“One of the 18 takes the cake,” said Rahm. “18 for 1 was a perfect drive, a great second shot, a tap in for a birdie. Usually here he doesn’t get a goodbye birdie. This guy two swings are as good as they can feel.” It was good.”

For Koepka, it’s all about feeling good. His health has long been a problem. He will play in the Masters in 2021, just three weeks after his fractured kneecap surgery.

His health is one of the reasons he made the leap from supporting the PGA Tour to LIV, not to mention a nine-figure signing bonus. Koepka says he started feeling healthy again towards the end of last year. He arrived in Augusta triumphantly.

“Fight nine to go on Sunday,” he said. “That’s the whole goal.”

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