AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brooks Koepka faces a Masters Sunday unlike any other, one of fateful irony, if you will. To win a green jacket, Koepka will have to complete at least 29 holes, which happens to constitute more than half of a regulation tournament on the tour on which he now competes.
One of 18 members of the LIV Golf League competing this week, Koepka takes a tenuous four-stroke lead into what is shaping up to be a long day at Augusta National Golf Club. The four-time major champion stood at 13 under par and faced an 11-foot par putt on the seventh hole when the tournament was suspended at 3:15 p.m. EDT due to unplayable conditions from rain that had been falling for nearly 24 hours. Meanwhile, Jon Rahm, his nearest pursuer, will be sizing up a nine-foot birdie putt on the par-4 seventh when play resumes at 8:30 a.m.
A two-shot swing and a swing of emotion and momentum all wrapped up in their respective first strokes of the day will set the scene for an incomparable passion play at a place famous for them.
Koepka, 32, is coming off a one-stroke victory at last week’s LIV Golf League event in Orlando. That’s the upstart league with the 54-hole shotgun format, so Koepka will at least feel a pang of familiarity with the restart. That he’ll have 28 holes, plus a putt or two, on Easter Sunday seems, well, taxing—and that’s if he can avoid a playoff.
The final round is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., again off both 1 and 10 tees. The final group should be off around 2:05 p.m.
“I’m not too concerned about playing 29 holes or however many holes we’ve got left,” said Koepka, who has slipped to 118th in the world because LIV golfers are not yet eligible to earn points in the Official World Golf Ranking. “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, meanwhile, has been one of the hottest players in the world the last six months and came into the year’s first major with three wins on the PGA Tour. The 28-year-old Spaniard, ranked No. 3 in the world, is more battle-tested of late both in the number of starts and in 72-hole events, which, of course, is the standard in major championships. Or part of the deal, as Koepka said.
While there is much golf left to be played, there aren’t, at present, other contenders beyond the top two. U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett, the third member of the final threesome with Koepka and Rahm, bogeyed his opening two holes and fell to six under par. After that comes a foursome of Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and reigning U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick at five under.
Koepka began the third round with a two-stroke lead over Rahm and played his first six holes—an underappreciated difficult stretch—impressively with one birdie and five pars. “You know it was going to be a difficult day. You’ve just got to grind through it and try to salvage something,” he said with a relatively satisfied tone.
Rahm had to play nine holes Saturday morning to complete a second-round 69 and then traded two bogeys against a birdie in the afternoon before the horn blew to mercilessly end things. Whether the stoppage was akin to a much-needed timeout in basketball when the opponent is starting to pull away remains to be seen, but Rahm appeared buoyant during a brief interview with pool reporters.
“Very happy with the way I finished,” said the former U.S. Open winner. “I made a great swing on 6 and great two swings on 7. So feeling confident, playing good golf and there’s a lot to be played.”
The weather forecast looks favorable, though not terrific, with an expected high of 61 degrees and cloudy skies for most of the day. Should a playoff of some length become necessary, the tournament could spill over into Monday for the first time since 1983. There have been four other Masters that have required an extra day because of weather—1973, 1961, 1938 and 1936. The 54-hole leader won only one of those four, in 1961, when Gary Player and Arnold Palmer were tied and Player went on to claim his first green jacket.