Survival at Masters as Rahm stays close to Koepka in tough conditions at Augusta

Jon Rahm, of Spain, waits in the rain to play on the 17th hole during the weather delayed second round of the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — No one had an easier time Saturday morning at the Masters than Brooks Koepka. He didn’t have to play, and he still had the lead going into a cold, soggy and brutally difficult weekend at Augusta National.

Jon Rahm did remarkably well to stay close. Tiger Woods managed to survive, tying the Masters record by making the cut for the 23rd consecutive time.

Cameron Young summed it for some three dozen players who were forced to handle the rain, the cold and a course that played longer than it ever has.

“It’s basically impossible,” Young said. “I really don’t know what you’re supposed to do.”

Rahm played the entire back nine in severe conditions and finished off a 3-under 69 to get within two shots of Koepka, who was among the fortunate to get his second round out of the way on Friday before the bad weather moved in and changed everything.

Temperatures dipped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). Shots were skidding into the rain-soaked greens. The golf ball was going nowhere. Players were hitting fairway metal into the the par-4 18th and hardly anyone could reach the par 5s in two.

Koepka missed all of this, having played bogey-free in the breezy warmth Friday for a 67 that put him at 12-under 132. Rahm was two shots behind at 134, making this the first time in Masters history that two players were at double digits under par through 36 holes.

This was all about survival, and no one paid a price quite like Justin Thomas. He was at 2 under for the tournament when he returned Saturday morning on the 10th hole. And then he got plenty of attention for all the wrong reasons.

Thomas went from helping Woods make the cut to missing out himself with a bogey-bogey to shoot 42 on the back nine.

Woods also went bogey-bogey for 73 and was outside the cut line. He needed either Thomas or Sungjae Im to bogey coming in for him to make the weekend.

Thomas narrowly missed an 8-foot par putt on the 17th hole, and that did the trick for Woods. On the 18th hole, Thomas hit a fairway metal left toward the gallery, and missed his par putt from 10 feet. He shot 78 and missed the cut at 4-over 148.

“It’s hard out here. There’s really no other way to say it,” Thomas said during a walk-and-talk with broadcasters while playing the 14th hole.

Rahm didn’t drop a shot until the final few holes. He holed a short birdie on the par-3 12th and beautifully judged his wedge to the par-5 15th that set up a 4-foot birdie putt.

“Man, I’m really happy to play that 1 under,” he said of the back nine. “I would have taken even.”

Rahm three-putted for bogey up the slope on the par-3 16th, holed a birdie putt from off the green on the 17th to get within one and then finished with a bogey on the 18th, a hole that played closer to a par 5.

“I hit a 3-iron into 18, and I only had 186 (yards) to the front, and it didn’t even pitch to the front,” Adam Scott said. “So it’s playing long. Normally that club flies 240.”

Augusta National decided to send players off both sides in threesomes for the third round, unusual but not unprecedented — there was a two-tee start for the final round because of a forecast for storms in 2019, the year Woods won his fifth green jacket.

The forecast for Sunday should allow for the Masters to finish as scheduled. The trick was getting through Saturday, however much golf could be played.

The color at Augusta came from all the umbrellas — most of the blooms began to fade earlier in the week — and the predominant sound was raindrops, not roars.

Koepka is atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time since he won his fourth title at the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. He was playing in the final group with Rahm and U.S. Amateur champion Sam Bennett.

Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland were six shots behind, followed by a large group that included Young, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day.

Nine major champions were in the top 10 — Phil Mickelson, included — though there was a lot of ground to catch up to Koepka. And it wasn’t going to be easy.

“It’s just going to be a battle,” Young said. “You can’t afford to make doubles — bogeys can be OK. You kind of just have to be thankful when you have a putt for birdie because it’s going to play really long and no one’s going to be very comfortable out there.

“Mentally, it’s obviously hard just because you’re generally not having the most fun out there.”

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