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Masters notebook: Jon Rahm delivers on early Phil Mickelson praise

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Masters notebook: Jon Rahm delivers on early Phil Mickelson praise Ron Borges Saturday, April 08, 2017 Credit: Associated Press LONG WALK HOME: Jon Rahm trots up to his ball sitting on the 18th green to close out his second round of the Masters yesterday in Augusta, Ga. comments AUGUSTA, Ga. — Maybe Phil Mickelson was right about Jon Rahm.
While Rahm was still an amateur playing for Mickelson’s brother, Tim, at Arizona State he told him he was already one of the 10 best players in the world. Entering the weekend at the Masters, the 22-year-old Spaniard is in position to prove it.
Rahm shot a 2-under 70 yesterday to leave him 1-under for the tournament and only 3 shots off the lead, a circumstance few first-time visitors to Augusta experience.
“Once you realize you’re teeing off in the Masters, next to Rory McIlroy, who might win the Grand Slam this year, once I hit that moment is when I realized that I got comfortable with this,’’ Rahm said. “I think that second shot Thursday just got rid of any uncomfortable moment I could have.
“Obviously it’s a major championship. You’re going to get nervous. Just got to fight hard and be mentally tough.’’
Already ranked 12th in the world, Rahm has thus far shown this week that Mickelson’s assessment of his skills may be as spot on as Mickelson’s own brilliant short game.
Certainly Rahm seemed unfazed by the stage he was on as he closed in on the leaders and nearly caught them. The fact few golfers have made successful debuts at the Masters is equally uninteresting to him.
“There’s nothing that says I’m going to play bad or that I should play bad,’’ Rahm said. “You just got to be smart. First-timers don’t usually have a great history at Torrey Pines either and I was able to win that. I kept that in mind.’’
While that’s a good approach, Torrey Pines is not Augusta National. Jon Rahm may yet come to realize that. Or maybe not.
Rory holds out hope
McIlroy scrambled to stay in contention the first two days at the Masters and although he’ll start today 1-over for the tournament and 5 shots behind leaders Sergio Garcia, Thomas Pieters, Rickie Fowler and Charley Hoffman, he knows if he can play well on what tour pros call “moving day” he could still have an interesting Sunday.
“I know more than most what can happen on Sundays around here, good and bad,’’ McIlroy said. “I’ve shot 66 in the last round and I shot 80 (and blew a big lead and his best chance yet to win the green jacket).
“I’m still within 5 of the lead going into the weekend with better conditions on the way. I still feel like I’m right in the tournament.’’
Had he not made bogey on two of the first three holes and also on 18 he would have been more in than out so he understands today needs to be something special if he’s to put himself in position to become only the sixth golfer in history to win the career grand slam (all four majors). A low number has to happen today or else the questions he’s faced every spring for the past several years about winning “The Slam” will come back anew.
“I feel like I need something in the 60s at least to get myself in there,’’ McIlroy said. “But I’m not disappointed. I’m disappointed by what happened at the last but I’m in a decent position. I’m close enough.”
Miles to go
Tiger Woods isn’t the only guy chasing Jack Nicklaus with no chance of catching him. So is Garcia.
Garcia is playing in his 71st consecutive major championship, the most of any active player and a streak that dates back to the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. But the 37-year-old Garcia is not even halfway to Nicklaus’ major run.
Nicklaus played in every major championship from the 1962 Masters through the 1998 U.S. Open — 146 straight majors. Garcia would need to play the next 18 years of majors to catch Nicklaus. That would make him 55 and that feat unlikely.
Down goes the champ
Danny Willett became the first defending champion since Mike Weir in 2004, to miss the cut. Willett finished his two days 7-over par, 1 shot off the cut line.
The top 50 players and ties make the 36-hole cut at the Masters, which ended with 53 players at plus-6 or better. Anyone within 10 shots of the lead makes the cut as well, so there were a lot of players in the clubhouse hoping Fowler or Pieters, who were on the course late, didn’t go lower than Hoffman and Garcia, who finished by mid-afternoon.
Willett struggled from the outset, registering a killer quadruple bogey Thursday on the troublesome first hole, which has plagued players all week. That set a sour tone for the day and for the week.
“We’ve hit a lot of good golf shots all year but haven’t gotten anything,’’ Willett said. “Same as (yesterday). Unfortunately we’ve a results-based game and the results haven’t quit been there. It’s been a tricky 12 months (since being a surprise winner at Augusta last year).
“We haven’t played great golf but by the same token if you look at the career we’ve had two fabulous years. When you have a little bit of a downturn it feels like the world is coming to an end. We had it in our own arms but we let it slip.’’
One tough bet
The fact that Dustin Johnson pulled out of the Masters without ever teeing off resulted in some sports books in Las Vegas refunding gamblers’ bets and others not, proving that — at least at some casinos — the house wins even if the competition never begins.
Among the Las Vegas sportsbooks refunding money — taking the belief that the bet is off if the golfer doesn’t play — were Westgate, South Point, Wynn, Golden Nugget and Station Casinos. Others, including MGM, Boyd Gaming, Caesars, CG Tech and William Hill (the largest Nevada sportsbook operator in terms of number of sportsbooks and market share), told bettors Johnson’s failure to take a single stroke before withdrawing with back problems still resulted in a lost futures bet.
The latter claimed it was common practice. The former claimed it was good public relations. Either way, more money had been bet on Johnson to win this year’s Masters than on any other golfer at multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks.

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