Brennan: At a Masters that’s seen Mother Nature take the lead, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm offer huge contrast

AUGUSTA, Ga. — LIV Golf’s Brooks Koepka is having himself quite a tournament nearing the halfway point of the third round of the 2023 Masters, but there is no doubt who the leader in the clubhouse is: Mother Nature.

Not even 24 hours after three tall pine trees crashed onto the course perilously close to dozens of spectators, miraculously injuring no one, according to tournament officials, the third round of the tournament was called off just after 3 p.m. Saturday due to a prolonged deluge that flooded the venerable greens of Augusta National Golf Club.

It was the second suspension of play in this Masters, following Friday’s second-round stoppage due to inclement weather when the trees fell near the 17th tee.

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All this focusing on crashing trees, sodden grass and ominous skies seems to be prolonging the inevitable: what could be a day of great angst for the powers that be in men’s golf, the day when a man who was kicked off the PGA Tour last year for taking Saudi blood money dons a green jacket as the winner of the first major of the year.

Koepka, 32, still has 12 holes to play in the third round before a full 18 in the fourth round Sunday, but he certainly was in command Saturday with a four-stroke lead over Spain’s Jon Rahm. Koepka managed one birdie and five pars during the miserable cold and rain over his first six holes of the third round to reach 13-under par for the tournament, four better than Rahm, who had a birdie, two bogeys and three pars.

Rahm, 28, had the misfortunate of bearing the brunt of the bad weather both Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, while Koepka luckily finished his second round before the weather turned ugly Friday and didn’t have to return to the course until the third round began.

Now they both face a very long, intense journey Sunday.

“I’m not too concerned about playing 29 holes or however many holes we’ve got left,” said Koepka, who won four majors from 2017-19 but has dealt with a series of injuries to his right knee the past few years. “It’s part of the deal. I’m pretty sure I’ll be up for it considering it is the Masters. So I don’t think anybody should have a problem with that.”

Then again, 29 or 30 holes of golf in one day is a lot for a man who now enjoys the no-cut, exhibition-style, 54-hole lifestyle of the Saudi-backed LIV circuit — albeit a man who is believed to not be the happiest golfer in the LIV stable.

If he had been as healthy last year when he left for the far-less-competitive LIV life as he is right now, he was asked, would his decision to bolt from the PGA Tour have .been more challenging?

“Honestly, yeah, probably, if I’m being completely honest,” Koepka said. “I think it would have been. But I’m happy with the decision I made.”

Koepka and 17 other golfers who arrived at this week’s Masters left their regular tour jobs to go into the “sportswashing” business with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the mastermind of the killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, as well as his golf-bro buddies in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the nation responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States and abysmal human rights violations against women and the LGBTQ community.

One golfer who was adamant that he would never leave the PGA Tour for LIV’s ridiculously fat paychecks is Rahm.

“Shotgun (start), three days to me is not a golf tournament. No cut. It’s that simple,” Rahm said. “I want to play against the best in the world in a format that’s been going on for hundreds of years.

“I’ve never really played the game of golf for monetary reasons. I play for the love of the game, and I want to play against the best in the world. I’ve always been interested in history and legacy, and right now, the PGA Tour has that.”

Jon Rahm acknowledges patrons after a putt on the second green during the third round of The Masters golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Rahm, ranked No. 3 in the world, has one major title, the 2021 U.S. Open. Koepka, ranked 118th in the world, has won two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships.

There’s still a long way to go, but it’s likely one of those two will be donning a green jacket Sunday evening. Augusta National officials could have banned all the LIV golfers from competing here, but refused to do so. Now Koepka’s dream could become their worst nightmare.

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