AUGUSTA, Ga. – With ferocious winds and 81 years of experience in its corner, the great Augusta National got the better of Jon Rahm late in the round. But the young Spaniard stayed on his feet throughout a tough afternoon at the Masters and landed some blows of his own.
Rahm finished with bogeys at holes No. 17 and 18 and sits T-19 at 1 over after an opening-round 73. Now the 22-year-old Arizona State graduate is ready for Round 2.
The reigning Farmers Insurance Open champ seems to enjoy a good fight.
“It kind of went off track on the last few holes, but there’s a lot left to be played,” Rahm said.
Two weeks after going toe-to-toe with World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, falling 1 up in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Rahm embraced the first Masters appearance of his career admirably. (Johnson was forced to withdraw moments before his tee time due to a back injury Thursday).
Consider the final three-hole stretch Rahm’s first lesson in keeping his guard up.
Rahm stuck his tee shot at the par-3 16th but missed a short birdie putt. He put his approach in a greenside bunker after a perfect tee shot on 17 and had a tough lie. Rahm blasted his sand shot well past the hole and made bogey. He hit a great approach shot to the top shelf of the 18th green, but an aggressive birdie attempt led to a three-putt bogey.
So, what did Rahm learn from his first go at Augusta National with just three practice rounds under his belt?
“It’s not easy to make putts,” Rahm said. “And when the wind blows, it’s really, really hard. It’s a tough golf course. I didn’t know what to expect coming out today, because there’s not many days where the wind blows as hard as it’s been blowing today.”
A birdie at the par-5 eighth got him to 1 under and strong par saves at No. 9 and 11 kept him there for the time being in tough conditions which knocked out a host of more-experienced players.
Bill Haas has made seven consecutive cuts at the Masters but still faltered down the stretch, shooting 40 on the back nine to finish 3 over.
“If you don’t strike it nice in these conditions, (the course is) going to beat you pretty bad,” Haas said.
Rahm landed perhaps his most impressive strike at the par-5 15th after making bogey at No. 12. He belted his drive to the left side of the fairway, laid up about 72 yards short of the pin and lofted a near-perfect chip into the thin, landing strip green.
“I hit a perfect shot,” said Rahm, who made the short birdie putt. “Probably hit it about as good as I can. … I did it exactly, perfectly the way I saw it.”
Rahm was disappointed with the closing stretch, but exuded optimism after a few minutes of reflection. He said he felt he played better than he scored and seemed to get a real kick out of the course and its unique challenges. Considering his age and youth, he seems destined to stand tall and give Augusta National his best shot for years to come.