The Masters final round is here. Are the contenders ready for what’s next?



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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jon Rahm stood in front of a microphone outside the Augusta National clubhouse, trying to figure out the next day’s plans. At 5-over through three rounds of the 88th Masters, this Sunday will be far different than that a year ago, when he won his second major, conjured the spirits of Seve and José María, and cemented his place as a Masters champion.

This Sunday, Rahm will tee off at 11:45 a.m., wrap up his tournament around mid-afternoon, then sit around a few hours waiting to stand as a human hanger as someone else slips his arms into the green jacket. Rahm thought on all this Saturday, saying it’s a “bit of a sour feeling.” Longtime golf writer Michael Bamberger stepped forward to ask an unrelated question when, in a wave, the air changed. About 50 yards in front of him, the day’s final pairing of Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa set out down the first hole after their opening tee shots.

Straining to hear the question, Rahm leaned forward, telling Bamberger, “Give it a second.”

Indeed, everything is fleeting. It’s one of those truths that make what’s coming all the more riveting. It is so hard to win a Masters, and with eight players sitting within five shots of the lead heading into Sunday’s final round, the portraits of a potential winner are starting to be painted.

And they all couldn’t look any more differently. None of these men will sleep the same on Saturday.

Scottie Scheffler, 27, is looking for his second Masters championship, joining the tournament’s 17 other multi-time winners. He’s also about to be a dad, prepared for a call from his wife, Meredith that the moment has arrived. He’s said he will return home to Texas immediately if word comes that she’s going into labor. The promise, or threat, still stands. Some in the field probably wouldn’t mind, as the game’s best ball striker is again delivering a tour de force of perfect drives and dialed irons.

Scheffler is at 7-under, leading by one stroke. Two years ago, he was up three strokes on Cameron Smith and five strokes on Sungjae Im. Sunday was a planned coronation. He slept well the night before, but broke down in Meredith’s arms the morning of the final round. Life was coming at the couple so fast. After a rookie year spent seeking his first tour win, Scheffler rattled off a string of victories at the Phoenix Open, the Arnold Palmer and the Dell Match Play. He was, in a flash, the No. 1 golfer in the world and on the brink of his first major — the Masters, no less.

This time around should be a little different. Scheffler said he’ll manage his energy and nerves early in the day so that “by the time I get to the course, it’s kind of getting into my own little world and just trying to hit shots.”

Collin Morikawa is looking for his third major, and it says a lot that many people likely forget that. The 27-year-old arrived four years ago with a blast radius that obscured everything around it. A debut PGA Tour victory at age 22 in 2019. A win at the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park. A win at the 2021 Open at Royal St. George. A few weeks after that Open win, Morikawa followed with a DP World Tour Championship win in Dubai. It was November 2021. Morikawa was a new face of golf.

Since then, one win in 57 events, other stars pushing past in the pecking order, swing tweaks, putter changes, second-guessing, and some hard realities. Morikawa said Saturday that he’s been “searching” since the beginning of 2022.

Now the opportunity for a third leg of the grand slam is upon him and Morikawa seems unfazed. Walking up the 14th fairway in the third round, the leaderboard in front of him off No. 10 revealed he was leading the tournament. At that moment, a roar shook the grounds — Scheffler eagling the 10th. Morikawa’s playing partner, Cam Davis flinched, looking back toward the commotion. Morikawa did not break stride.

“Look, Scottie is the No. 1 player in the world for a reason, and what he’s done over the past few years is incredible,” Morikawa said later. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t scare me.”

Sounds like a man planning to sleep well.

Max Homa? Perhaps not so much. The 33-year-old is one day from the sort of validation he’s searched so long for, spoken so openly about. There’s a reason Homa is a fan favorite and it’s because his journey has been a shared experience.

But while Homa has ascended to top-15 player in the world status, he’s come short of his ultimate own expectations — performing in majors. Having appeared in every major since the start of 2020, he’s missed eight cuts in 15 starts and had one top-10 finish, squeezing out a T10 at last year’s Open.

Two shots off the lead at Augusta is entirely uncharted territory for a guy who’s played a lot of professional golf. He, of anyone, is aware it’s rare when life presents such chances.

“If I catch myself thinking about what could go wrong, I let myself dream about what could go right,” Home said late Saturday, after a workmanlike, risk-averse 1-over 73. “I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I didn’t know what was going to happen today.”

For all the scar tissue Homa wears, 24-year-old Ludvig Åberg is as untarnished as they come. The young Swede looks the part of a future world No. 1 and seems to understand as much fully. Having debuted at the Ryder Cup last fall, he’s now making his first major championship appearance at the Masters. He’s cruised around so far this week with rounds of 73, 69 and 70, and sits three back from Scheffler.

Asked how he avoids thinking about the gravity of the moment, Åberg sort of cocked an eye, as if countering, why wouldn’t he?

“I think about it all the time,” Åberg said. “I’m okay thinking about it. Obviously I’m a competitor and I want to win tournaments. I don’t think you should shy away from it. I don’t think you should try to push it away. I try to embrace it, and I try to be okay with all that comes with it.”

Bryson DeChambeau began Saturday in a three-way tie for the lead with Homa and Scheffler at 6-under. He ended the day ripping off his portion of the scorecard with gritted teeth. His third round back nine summed up all of the 1,301 days since his seismic win at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot: Erratic, dramatic and confusing. He had three birdies, two pars, three bogeys, and a double-bogey.

He’ll spend Sunday night thinking about what went wrong and how he can erase a four-shot lead against the best player in the world.

“It’s very difficult to chase, but I’m going to take what I can on this golf course where I can, and I’ve got to make some putts,” DeChambeau said.

DeChambeau already holds the low score of the tournament with a first-round 65. It may take something similar on Sunday, which could be borderline impossible given Augusta National’s current state. The course is dry, firm and lightening fast. The lowest score in the field on Saturday was Chris Kirk’s 68. He and Morikawa were the only two to post scores in the 60s.

It turns out that winning the Masters is hard.

Behind DeChambeau, meanwhile, five shots back of Scheffler, whether their chances are realistic or not, is a trio all seeking a first career major victory — Xander Schauffele, Cameron Davis and Nicolai Højgaard.

Saturday night might a little easier for them. Their chances require dreaming.

“Have some food, get to bed, give myself eight hours of sleep,” Davis said of his evening itinerary. “That’s it.”

(Top photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)





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