LIV Golf star Brooks Koepka clings to Masters lead over Jon Rahm as Viktor Hovland charges

Brooks Koepka of the United States looks over a putt on the 18th green during the continuation of the weather delayed third round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday. Photo: Patrick Smith/AFP

Brooks Koepka of the United States looks over a putt on the 18th green during the continuation of the weather delayed third round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday. Photo: Patrick Smith/AFP

Published Apr 9, 2023


Augusta — Brooks Koepka clung to a two-stroke lead over Jon Rahm after Sunday's completion of the storm-hit third round of the Masters, setting the stage for a closing drama at rain-softened Augusta National.

Koepka and Rahm each fired a one-over par 73 in the third round to leave American Koepka on 11-under 205 after 54 holes and Rahm two back on 207 — neither managing a back-nine birdie.

Adding to the tension was a run by ninth-ranked Viktor Hovland, five consecutive birdies starting at the par-4 11th lifting the Norwegian to third on 208 and in the hunt for his first major crown after shooting 70.

A marathon last-day battle was poised to unfold under the towering Georgia pines with Koepka chasing his fifth major title, Spain's third-ranked Rahm seeking his second and Hovland his first — all hunting a first green jacket.

An additional sub-plot to the final day duel is that Koepka plays in the Saudi-backed upstart LIV Golf League while Rahm and Hovland have stayed loyal to the PGA Tour.

Heavy rain forced a suspension of play Saturday, water puddling on the famed undulating greens, with Koepka in the overnight lead on 13-under and Rahm four adrift.

Rahm began Sunday morning by sinking a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh hole while Koepka curled an 11-foot par putt beyond the hole, his first stumble after 29 holes in a row without a bogey.

The two-shot swing halved Koepka's overnight edge to two shots. Both birdied the par-5 eighth but Koepka missed an eight-foot par putt to bogey the par-3 12th and Rahm lipped out on a six-foot par putt at the par-5 13th, falling two adrift again.

Rahm missed a 10-foot par putt at the par-3 16th but Koepka lipped out from three feet at 17 for his first three-putt bogey of the week and each parred 18.

Koepka, who has won all three prior times when leading a major after 54 holes, appeared set for a 30-hole last-day duel with Rahm and Hovland.

"Drier out there but windier and colder," fourth-ranked American Patrick Cantlay said after a third-round 68 to stand on 210. "It's still pretty hard."

Clear conditions with gusty winds were expected with final-round twosomes planned off split tees in order to complete the year's first major tournament before sundown.

Koepka, a winner of last week's Orlando LIV event, has battled back from 2021 knee surgery to again threaten in majors after winning the 2017 and 2018 US Opens and 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships.

Breakaway LIV Golf lured several big names from the PGA Tour last year with record $25 million purses from 54-hole events, sparking the PGA to ban LIV players from its events. The PGA-LIV fight is set for a court date early next year.

Major tournaments allow LIV players who qualify to compete, setting up PGA-LIV showdowns this year on golf's grandest stages.

In the meantime, LIV events do not bring players Official World Golf Rankings points. That's part of why Koepka has fallen to 118th in the world and would be the lowest-rated Masters champion since the system began in 1986.

The Masters champion will pocket a record top prize of $3.24 million from a record $18 million purse, less than the $4 million Koepka won in Orlando.

Rahm, the 2021 US Open champion who already has three PGA triumphs this year, is trying to win his first Masters exactly 40 years after his idol, Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros, won his second Masters.

Injured Tiger withdraws

Tiger Woods, who was limping as he made back-to-back double bogeys before play was halted Saturday, withdrew from the Masters on Sunday morning with a foot injury.

"I am disappointed to have to WD this morning due to reaggravating my plantar fasciitis," Woods tweeted.

The 15-time major winner, still nagged by pain from severe leg injuries in a 2021 car crash, had been forced to withdraw from his Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas last December due to the foot injury, but returned to share 45th in his PGA event at Riviera in February.

Woods matched the Masters record of Fred Couples and Gary Player with 23 consecutive made cuts.