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Spain's Rahm follows Ballesteros with Masters glory

Golf - The Masters - Augusta National Golf Club - Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - April 9, 2023 Spain's Jon Rahm celebrates with his green jacket and the trophy after winning The Masters REUTERS/Brian Snyder     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Golf - The Masters - Augusta National Golf Club - Augusta, Georgia, U.S. - April 9, 2023 Spain's Jon Rahm celebrates with his green jacket and the trophy after winning The Masters REUTERS/Brian Snyder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Augusta, United States: Jon Rahm was nearly in tears after winning an emotional triumph at the Masters on Sunday, what would have been the 66th birthday of his idol Seve Ballesteros.

Rahm overcame a four-stroke deficit at the start of a marathon 40-hole final day at Augusta National to defeat Americans Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson by four shots for his second major title, a victory that returns him to world number one.

"This one was for Seve," Rahm said. "He was up there helping, and help he did."

The 28-year-old Spaniard said he felt bolstered by the spirit of the late Ballesteros, who won his second Masters title 40 years ago.

"For me to get it done on the 40th anniversary of his win, his birthday, on Easter Sunday, it's incredibly meaningful," Rahm said.

Rahm achieved what he called a "true honor" in becoming the fourth Spaniard to grab the green jacket after Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.

"Rest in peace Seve," Rahm said to close his victory ceremony.

Rahm won the green jacket and took a record top prize of $3.24 million from a record $18 million purse.

Olazabal greeted Rahm with an emotional embrace just off the 18th green moments after the triumph was complete.

"He said he hopes it's the first of many more," Rahm said. "We both mentioned something about Seve, and if he had given us 10 more seconds, I think we would have both ended up crying."

Rahm's methodical precision shotmaking down the bogey-free back nine delivered the triumph, a contrast to his emotional mood after the victory.

"I might have looked calm, but I was definitely nervous out there," Rahm said. "I never panicked. I felt comfortable with my game. I never got frustrated. I never felt like anything was out of control. But there was tension out there."

Rahm rescued a poor shot off the 18th tee for a closing par in much the same manner Ballesteros was known for doing.

"To finish it off the way I did -- an unusual par, very much a Seve par -- it was in a non-purposeful way a testament to him," Rahm said. "He was pulling for me."

Rahm held firm with a final-round three-under par 69 to finish on 12-under par 276 with four-time major winner Koepka and six-time major winner Mickelson sharing second on 280 and fellow Americans Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Russell Henley on 281.

Rahm, who also won the 2021 US Open, became the first European golfer to own that title and a Masters.

"To be the first to do something like that, it's a very humbling feeling," Rahm said.

Rahm, who won three prior PGA Tour titles this year, overtook 2022 Masters champion Scottie Scheffler atop the rankings after the American shared 10th on 284.

Koepka, whose lead was trimmed from four shots to two just after the third-round restart Sunday morning, fired a closing 75. He surrendered the lead to Rahm with a bogey at the sixth -- part of a 6-over 19-hole stretch -- and never recovered.

"Some days you have it, some days you don't, and today wasn't one of those," Koepka said. "Tried to give it a run there at the end, but just wasn't good enough."

Rahm's five-foot birdie at the par-5 13th, four-foot birdie at 14 and four closing pars foiled 52-year-old Mickelson's bid to break his own mark as the oldest major champion.

Mickelson encouraged

Three-time Masters champion Mickelson birdied five of the last seven holes to shoot 65, the lowest Masters round ever for a player over 50.

"Unfortunately it wasn't enough, but it was really a lot of fun for me to play at this level again," said Mickelson. "It's encouraging for me going forward the rest of the year."

He had a chance to match the greatest last-round comeback in major history -- Paul Lawrie's 1999 British Open rally from 10 adrift.

But the US left-hander settled for being the oldest player to finish in the top-five at a Masters. -- AFP

Masters final scores (par 72):

276 - Jon Rahm (ESP) 65-69-73-69

280 - Phil Mickelson (USA) 71-69-75-65, Brooks Koepka (USA) 65-67-73-75

281 - Jordan Spieth (USA) 69-70-76-66, Russell Henley (USA) 73-67-71-70, Patrick Reed (USA) 71-70-72-68

282 - Cameron Young (USA) 67-72-75-68, Viktor Hovland (NOR) 65-73-70-74

283 - Sahith Theegala (USA) 73-70-73-67

284 - Scottie Scheffler (USA) 68-75-71-70, Xander Schauffele (USA) 68-74-71-71, Collin Morikawa (USA) 69-69-74-72, Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 70-72-72-70

285 - Gary Woodland (USA) 68-72-73-72, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 71-71-68-75

286 - Sam Bennett (USA) 68-68-76-74, Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 71-70-70-75, Im Sung-Jae (KOR) 71-76-67-72, Joohyung Kim (KOR) 70-72-74-70, Joaquin Niemann (CHI) 71-69-74-72, Shane Lowry (IRL) 68-72-73-73, Justin Rose (ENG) 69-71-73-73

287 - Lee Kyung-Hoon (KOR) 74-67-74-72, Chris Kirk (USA) 70-74-72-71, Keegan Bradley (USA) 70-72-74-71

288 - Tony Finau (USA) 69-74-73-72, Scott Stallings (USA) 70-77-69-72, Ryan Fox (NZL) 70-71-74-73

289 - Harold Varner III (USA) 72-71-76-70, Kim Si-Woo (KOR) 73-72-72-72, Mackenzie Hughes (CAN) 76-69-74-70, Sam Burns (USA) 68-71-78-72

291 - Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 72-71-74-74

292 - Tyrrell Hatton (ENG) 71-73-72-76, Zach Johnson (USA) 75-70-74-73, Talor Gooch (USA) 72-74-73-73, Cameron Smith (AUS) 70-72-75-75, JT Poston (USA) 74-72-76-70

293 - Taylor Moore (USA) 73-72-70-78, Abraham Ancer (MEX) 72-71-74-76, Adam Scott (AUS) 68-74-77-74, Jason Day (AUS) 67-72-74-80

294 - Guillermo Pereira (CHI) 74-70-77-73, Harris English (USA) 71-71-77-75, Max Homa (USA) 71-73-72-78

295 - Seamus Power (IRL) 73-72-73-77, Sepp Straka (AUT) 70-73-74-78

296 - Thomas Pieters (BEL) 74-73-72-77, Dustin Johnson (USA) 71-72-78-75

297 - Fred Couples (USA) 71-74-76-76, Charl Schwartzel (RSA) 74-73-73-77

300 - Billy Horschel (USA) 73-74-74-79

302 - Keith Mitchell (USA) 75-71-77-79

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