AUGUSTA, Ga. – The first Masters isn’t supposed to be easy. Wide-eyed rookies with fluttering stomachs arrive unsure what to expect and are warned of the daunting task ahead. Readied for the wrong end of the ensuing punishment Augusta National is sure to deliver.
So the old logic goes, because the Masters is no ordinary tournament. But Jon Rahm is no ordinary rookie. He proved that with an unflinching 2-under 70 Friday on a windy course playing as tough as many have seen it in years. Then he provided a verbal reminder when asked how he felt about first-timers and their not-so-good history here.
“First-timers don’t usually have a great history at Torrey Pines either,” said Rahm, who won his Farmers Insurance Open debut by three shots in January. “I keep that in mind. There’s nothing that says I’m going to play bad or that I should play bad. I think I liked the conditions, because I usually like tough conditions. I can keep the ball low and pars are my friend.”
The 22-year-old Arizona State graduate made a lot of new friends Friday, introducing himself to those around the grounds with outstanding shot-shaping and a bit of flair. He joked around with nearby fans who were curious to see how he would play his second shot amid the trees and pine straw after spraying his tee shot left at No. 1.
He sent a boomerang draw around the trees and a bit shy of the green, drew a collective “Oooooh,” from the gallery and got up-and-down for par. He sure didn’t look like a rookie.
Rahm now sits T-6 at 1 under for the tournament, just three shots behind co-leaders Charley Hoffman, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler. He missed several makeable birdie putts and might have been right alongside them or better with a little help from the flatstick.
“I’ve been playing great, my ball-striking is great,” Rahm said. “If I can get myself more looks and make a couple of them, I can get the putter going a little hotter, maybe get a good round going. You never know.”
Most would have considered 2 under a spectacular round on another windy day which created the need for even more precision. Charley Hoffman began the day 7 under and battled throughout the afternoon to a 3-over 75, Lee Westwood shot 77 and 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett shot 78 and missed the cut.
Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, said it’s been “quite a few years” since the course has played this tough.
“We’ve had some strong winds over the years, 10, 15 miles an hour, and it’s difficult,” Lyle said. “Even with 10 mph winds, if the course is a little crispy it’s a test all the time.”
The course kept Rahm on his toes, to be sure. He three-putted for double bogey at No. 10 despite being in fine position in the fairway, but responded with birdies at 11 and 13.
It was a smart yet fearless performance from Rahm, who bypassed the first-year initiation process and is in contention to become the first player to win his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller did so in 1979. And he knows he still has more to prove.
“Had I made a couple putts, it could have been a lot different,” Rahm said.