HomeSportsJon Rahm casts a pale shadow of his former Augusta self in...

Jon Rahm casts a pale shadow of his former Augusta self in mediocre Masters defense

Jon Rahm was woefully uninspired at this Masters – Shutterstock/Erik Lesser

Jon Rahm is not the first defending champion at the Masters to have a hard time. In fact, it has become a trend since Tiger Woods became only the third player in history to retain his title 22 years ago.

But there was something about the Spaniard’s attitude here in the third round that suggested he had seen the green jacket replaced by a straitjacket. Definitely, his controversial comments on Friday night suggested he found the playing part of the experience maddening.

With five left after a 72, Rahm will not be present on this Masters Sunday. A year after topping Brooks Koepka for a clinical four-shot win and becoming the fourth player from his country to don the most famous piece of sportswear, Rahm has cast a pale shadow from his former Augusta plank.

No doubt the critics will look at Rahm’s respective 2023 and 2024 builds and claim he was undercooked after making that shocking move to LIV Golf last December. Last year he played in eight tournaments (28 rounds), winning three, before arriving in Georgia. This time he has played in five LIV events (15 rounds) and won none.

Rahm was defensive about his schedule. “You say playing a little less is a bad thing, which I don’t think is the case,” Rahm said at his pre-tournament conference here. “I feel physically better than last year. But once the competition starts, it doesn’t matter so much. Once the gun goes off, everything you feel is out the window; you have to go out and post a score.

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The problem is that he had mediocre scores. A 73 and a 76 saw him scrape within the cut with two shots and Sir Nick Faldo certainly saw the dangers in Rahm’s scheme. The three-time champion focused not so much on the scarcity of his competitive activity, but on the power of the challenge. “For the past few months he has been playing resort courses in shorts,” Faldo said. “It hasn’t really been tested.”

Of course, Faldo is part of the exclusive three – with Woods and Jack Nicklaus – who successfully defended at the National. Given the limited numbers in the field and the value placed on experience, the Masters should be receptive to the glorious returns. But in the two decades since Woods won the third of his five jackets, only two have come back and posted a top five: Woods himself in 2006 (in third place) and Jordan Spieth in 2016 (in second place).

And in the remaining 19 Masters in this period, only two other defending champions have finished in the top 10: Phil Mickelson in 2005 (10th) and Scottie Scheffler in 2023. There have actually been as many missed retirements as there are in the top 10, and while this is probably doesn’t qualify as a curse, surely it’s a case of awkward lies, the head that wears the crown at the Champions Dinner?

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Is it the fault of the hoo-ha surrounding that clubhouse party, the fuss over the menu and the parade of legends in attendance to honor last year’s winner? Rahm downplayed this.

“The Champions Dinner, you just have to work around it,” he said. “You just have to make sure I’m ready at a certain time. I almost made the mistake of not being on time because I was so used to having nothing to do on Tuesdays that I scheduled my practice run a little late. . I just hope I get there in time.”

Rahm was punctual and everyone had a good time, despite the LIV elephant in the room. Yet there was an awkward moment when Tom Watson referred to the leading group and the ongoing break with the PGA Tour. “I stood up and looked around the room, and I saw this amazing experience that everyone is having,” Watson revealed. “They are jovial. They’re having a great time. They laugh. I said, ‘Isn’t it good to be together again?’ And there was a kind of numbing of the joviality, and it became calmer. And then Ray Floyd stood up and it was time to leave.”

Rahm appeared to be in a sour mood since then and his comments on Friday night were seen as inappropriate for a player in his position. Granted, the conditions were treacherous, but they were playable. However, Rahm thinks they may have stopped the game.

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“A few times I asked myself why we were there, especially when I turned 18 and saw the entire front of the green full of sand,” he said. “I understand they wanted us to finish it. I imagine they were very close a few times, especially when we were on the 11th green.

“You just put the ball down and it almost starts moving. Not only that, how long did it take before we played? For over six hours, just because they had to blow on the green between groups, and then when you get to a group, people step back and back in again. Once again it is just on the border. It was very, very close. It’s about as difficult a golf course as I’ve seen in a very long time.”

With the gusts having subsided, Saturday’s ride wasn’t as difficult, although Rahm was woefully uninspired. He went out in 37 shots after bogeying the seventh and reeling off nine pars from there before making his only birdie on the 17th. So no birdies in a display without any recognizable impetus. Long before he reached the clubhouse, he had resigned himself to falling short.

His green jacket will therefore have to remain in the champion’s dressing room, as only the reigning champion can wear it outside the field. Any regrets? “I’m going to regret not wearing it more often,” Rahm said.

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