The Winners and Losers of the 2023 Masters

A wet-and-wild Masters weekend comes to an end as Jon Rahm wins a major for the second time, Brooks Koepka fails to close for the first time, and seemingly everyone in the field either is or was 6-under par. To make sense of all the ups and downs of the year’s first major championship, here are our winners and losers from the 2023 Masters.

Winner: Jon Rahm

The dream initially seemed to be over before it could really begin. At Augusta National’s notoriously tricky first hole on Thursday, Rahm putted not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times to open his Masters week with a double bogey. It was a nightmare start for the man who came into the tournament with the third-best odds and plenty of momentum (with three wins already in 2023). But rather than let his disastrous start derail his plans, the Spaniard stepped up to the second tee and thought about a quote from his idol, Seve Ballesteros. “I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Well, I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.’ Move on to the next,” Rahm said after the round. “I carried a little bit of that negative energy into the tee shot on two, hit it about 10 yards farther than I usually do, and moved on with my day.”

Ahh, to have that kind of composure!

That’s the mentality Rahm carried throughout the weekend: never getting too low, or too high, even as he was putting on the green jacket Sunday following his four-shot win over a vintage Phil Mickelson and a resurgent Brooks Koepka. He carried it to a 65 in the first round, including that double bogey. And it was especially important for Rahm on Sunday.

He and Koepka started the day at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time on the seventh hole, following weather delays that canceled rounds early on both Friday and Saturday. The two, along with amateur Sam Bennett, had to play 11 full holes (plus finish up on the seventh green) in the morning to wrap their third rounds and get to the fourth. At that time, Rahm was four shots back of a front-running Koepka, who had made almost no mistakes all week after starting it with an opening-round 65. It seemed that if Rahm was going to win it, he’d have to take the fight to Brooks.

Rahm stepped up and birdied that initial hole Sunday, which, along with a rare Koepka bogey, cut the lead to two shots. That’s where it stayed as the two finished the third round and began their fourth. And as Koepka started dropping shots on the front nine, Rahm stayed level. He built on stellar past Masters performances—four straight top-10 finishes between 2018 and 2021—and knew exactly what shots and placements he needed to hit to get around the course cleanly. He earned his first birdie of the round at the par-3 third, netted out the rest of the front with a birdie at no. 8 and a bogey at no. 9, then capitalized on more Koepka mistakes with birdies at no. 13 and no. 14. That brought Rahm a four-shot lead. And he didn’t give up any ground from there.

“I wasn’t sure how it was all going to come to me up until I hit my third shot on the green at 18,” Rahm said after the round in Butler Cabin. But he finished the day with four straight pars to win his second career major—and had the green jacket placed on him by defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who also happens to be the guy Rahm has been battling lately for the no. 1 world ranking.

Finally, Rahm is ascending to his rightful place in the golf universe. And after the initial ceremony was over—with the win at least partially processed in his mind—he was even able to joke about that four-putt that started everything:

Loser: Brooks Koepka

This one is tough. For much of the week, it seemed like the Masters would serve as a setting for yet another comeback story. Brooks didn’t come into the tournament with great odds (30-1) or great expectations. Sure, he’d been playing decently across the early part of the year, and he won LIV Golf’s event in Orlando the week prior. But between injuries that have hindered his game for years and a lack of success in major championships going back to 2021, he didn’t seem to be much of a threat.

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Boy, did that change in a hurry.

Brooks came out on Thursday and matched Rahm and Viktor Hovland with a round of 65. He followed that up Friday with a 67 and was one of the few fortunate players who were able to get through the full round without a weather issue.

He entered Saturday at 12-under par, looking like the Brooks of old. You remember that guy: the one who would come into tournaments, dominate, and generally make professional golf look like the easiest thing in the world while competitors around him struggled and slogged to try to keep pace. It was the form that brought him four major wins in three years and had me writing things as if he’d just keep doing this … forever. But then on Sunday, that form surprisingly slipped away.

Brooks’s form has slipped before, but it was because his body betrayed him. First in August 2019, when he tore his left patella tendon. Then the labrum injury in 2020. And finally, in early 2021, he slipped at his home and suffered a gruesome right kneecap/patella tendon injury (which he described in awful detail this week).

This time, it was less dramatic, but still disappointing. “There’s some days you have it and some days you don’t,” Koepka told CBS’s Amanda Renner after the round. “And today just wasn’t one of those [good days].”

If you watched the Netflix docuseries Full Swing, you have some idea of what Koepka has been going through in regard to both the physical and mental sides of his game. He was almost heartbreakingly vulnerable on the show, saying things like, “Golf’s so crazy because when you have it, you feel like you’re never gonna lose it. And when you don’t have it, you feel like you’re never gonna get it.” He also said that he’d give up all the money he’s made to get the feeling of being in contention for a major championship back.

Well, he got that feeling back this week; but unlike the Brooks of old, he failed to get the win despite a two-stroke lead (his second T2 finish at the Masters after he lost out to Tiger in 2019). He didn’t smash his way through the field; he didn’t make it look easy. In fact, his final round looked downright difficult: He finished a sloppy 3-over par on the day to tie Phil Mickelson for second place and failed to be much of a threat after losing his lead. He looked as confused as the guys he used to dominate—all while going up against a new alpha in Rahm.

Overall, this week should be taken as a victory for Koepka. The former no. 1 player in the world proved that his game is in a much better place than we’ve seen it in years and that he can still hang around with the players he left behind when he joined LIV last year. But Brooks has never been interested in moral victories—just the ones that come with giant trophies. And to earn those again, it seems he still has a bit to go.

Winner: The Rest of the LIV Guys

This Masters Tournament was very important for the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf. All 18 LIV players who made it to Augusta National this week knew that, as did Greg Norman, LIV’s CEO and commissioner. This was the first Masters since LIV began, the first where LIV and PGA Tour players would go head-to-head, and while it wasn’t the first major played since the split, it was the first since LIV players filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour. It would be a tone-setter for how players on both sides would coexist at majors moving forward and a critical chance for LIV guys to show they could still compete on golf’s biggest stages.

And to the surprise of many, they were largely able to do that. Twelve LIV players made the cut this week. Koepka looked poised to win during three of the tournament’s four days, and he and Mickelson finished tied for second place, while Patrick Reed finished T4 and Joaquin Niemann finished T16.

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In an interview last week, Norman said that should an LIV player win the Masters, all 18 golfers could celebrate afterward on the 18th green. That obviously didn’t happen. But there were really no contentious moments throughout the week (though Phil did put on a strange performance art piece at one point), and there was even a sweet exchange between Koepka and Rahm on the 18th green after their round.

The players on both sides seemed to have squashed any beef (at least for the time being). And a number of LIV guys showed they still have it. That’s unquestionably a win for LIV—though that may signal a loss on a much larger, and more important, scale.

Loser: The Other Favorites

Along with Rahm, guys like Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas came into the tournament with big dreams: Rory to complete the career grand slam that’s eluded him for nine years, and JT to win a major that isn’t the PGA Championship. And both were expected to do well. McIlroy has a stellar history at Augusta National—seven top-10 finishes, including a solo second place last year. And while Thomas doesn’t share the same Masters résumé, many believe this event suits his game well.

Instead, both guys missed the cut (JT in ultra-depressing fashion, after he was mic’d up during the second round and said he expected to have a long weekend ahead of him). And while there’s probably more to say about both of their weeks, I will respect all of our time and make this entry as short as their respective tournaments.

Winner: Phil Mickelson

Out of the people who came into this Masters needing a feel-good week, Phil was at the top of the list. Phil used to run around Augusta National like he was its mayor, tossing out thumbs-ups to anyone who would shout his name, giving loving quotes about the grounds and his fellow competitors, and creating lasting memories (like his famous leap) on his way to three green-jacket wins.

But after his defection to LIV and his numerous concerning and downright objectionable quotes about his decision, he returned to Augusta as a much more muted version of himself. That is, until Sunday.

Phil had been T10 entering the weekend, but after a third-round 75, it seemed he might fade into the background. Instead, he eased his way out of the gate in the final round, making birdies on nos. 2, 6, and 7 and making the turn in 2-under par. Then, he caught some of playing partner Jordan Spieth’s fire (more on him in a bit) on the back nine and shot a blistering 65 and finished 8-under on the tournament. That score was good enough to give him the clubhouse lead, and with Koepka’s collapse, Phil ultimately finished tied for second place.

That makes Mickelson the oldest golfer ever to finish in the top five in a Masters. And his performance seemed to bring back a bit of his old self. He took plenty of chances on the course Sunday, seemingly just for the fun of it; he received thunderous applause after birdieing no. 18; and he could barely put his thumbs down while walking off the green. It was all around an astounding performance from Lefty—maybe even one good enough to inspire him to actually speak words during next year’s Champions Dinner.

Loser: The Hope of Jordan Spieth

I am Charlie Brown; Jordan Spieth at the Masters is Lucy with the football.

Once again, Spieth came into a Sunday round with little chance to win, and once again, he put on a performance that had me questioning how it’s possible he has only one Masters win to his name. I mean, seriously:

Not only did Spieth make nine birdies during Sunday’s final round to finish 6-under on the day, but it was his second time making at least nine birdies on a Sunday at Augusta (all other golfers have one such instance combined). Not to mention that his T4 finish gives him six top-five finishes in his first 10 Masters starts, the most since Tom Watson.

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Seriously, how many green jackets would Spieth have if the Masters played only Sunday pins? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

Loser: CBS

Overall, CBS typically does a phenomenal job covering the Masters. The dulcet tones of Jim Nantz’s voice, combined with the sound of perfectly hit iron shots and the sight of shadows growing longer across Augusta National, are the things golf dreams are made of. But this year was kind of rough.

Some of that isn’t CBS’s fault: The horn got blown on Friday’s and Saturday’s rounds almost immediately after the broadcasts began. And the broadcasts, as happens every year with the Masters due to the nature of the event’s TV contracts, were forced to start relatively late in the day, with the only early coverage being featured groups or hole-specific feeds (minus the mornings when golfers had to make up play from the day before).

But some of what happened on Sunday was CBS’s fault. Like how, for part of the afternoon, the TV leaderboard failed to show which holes players were on, perhaps to give the broadcast time to catch up to what was happening live. This was especially notable in Spieth’s case, as there were numerous occasions across the back nine where, if you flipped over to featured group coverage, he could be a shot or two ahead of where the traditional broadcast had him.

Things like that are to be expected when showing live golf tournaments, and the broadcast overall was solid. But when someone is surging up the leaderboard, I want to see every shot. That narrative tracking was missing on Sunday—but at least we got this gem of a reference from Nantz:

Loser: Plantar Fasciitis

This week, Tiger Woods tied the Masters record for consecutive cuts made (23 in a row), but he withdrew from play early Sunday, citing a plantar fasciitis flare-up. It was a disappointing end for Woods’s tournament, but not one that was surprising if you’d seen video of him playing hole no. 17 on Saturday:

The cold and rainy conditions were brutal for all golfers on the course this weekend, but especially Woods, as his surgically repaired leg—and 47-year-old limbs, more broadly—functions much better in warm weather. You could see that in his rounds: After shooting 74 and 73 on Thursday and Friday(ish), respectively, he was 6-over par through seven holes of his third round.

This end raises plenty of questions about how long Tiger will want to keep doing this and about whether his quest to stay in the game is doing more harm to him than good. (Really, try watching that video without cringing in sympathy pain.) But Tiger is always going to Tiger—so regardless of how this outing ended, I would not be one bit surprised to see him do it all over again next year and try to get that made cuts record all to himself.

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