Jon Rahm: "Augusta like Bernabeu stadium"

The Masters is the most exclusive major in golf, the tournament of the "green jacket," symbolizing the competition, a challenge among champions that has always been played on the same course: Augusta National, the dream stage of the green

by Andrea Gussoni
Jon Rahm: "Augusta like Bernabeu stadium"
© Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images Sport

The Masters is the most exclusive major in golf, the tournament of the "green jacket," symbolizing the competition, a challenge among champions that has always been played on the same course: Augusta National, the dream stage of the green.

Jon Rahm at the Masters

The Masters is not just any challenge, but the challenge. In Georgia, a southeastern state of the United States, everything is set for the 88th edition, scheduled from April 11th to 14th at Augusta.

It's where, nearly nine months since the last time, PGA Tour and DP World bigwigs return to challenge the "rebels" of the LIV. Among the 89 players in the field, 13 are part of the Arabian Super League, including Spanish player Jon Rahm, ranked 3rd in the world, among the highest-paid athletes, who will seek to become the fourth golfer after Jack Nicklaus (1965-1966), Nick Faldo (1989-1990), and Tiger Woods (2001-2002) to win the Masters consecutively after the feat in 2023.

"This is not a tournament like any other. Augusta National is comparable to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium or Wimbledon. No matter how many times you've played here, every time you set foot here, you have butterflies in your stomach.

It's something you dream about your whole life and that comes true, for the most skilled and fortunate, once a year," Rahm declared. As "Masters Champions," Rahm chose the menu for the Champions' Dinner, delighting his guests, all former winners of the event, with Spanish ham and grilled ribeye steak.

In the field are the top 50 in the world, including 20 newcomers. But the most anticipated man, as always, will be Woods. For the Californian, who has won the Masters five times, first in 1997 and last in 2019, the first goal will be to set a new record: no one has ever managed to make the cut 24 times in a row at Augusta.

Woods, who equaled the record of Gary Player (1959-1982) and Fred Couples (1983-2007) last year before retiring due to injury in the third round, dreams, not surprisingly, of wearing the "green jacket" for the sixth time, emulating Nicklaus, who has won 18 majors compared to Woods' 15.

"If everything goes according to plan, I think I might have a chance," explained the American phenomenon. "I love golf, and playing here is always an emotion, even 29 years after the first time. I hope, this year, to participate in all four Majors." Then there's the possibility of leading the US team at the 2025 Ryder Cup.

"We're still talking about it; I'll meet with the CEO of the PGA of America next week," he revealed. Among the favorites for the title is undoubtedly Scottie Scheffler. The American, ranked number 1 in the world, won the Masters in 2022.

Coming off two victories (Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship) and a second place (Houston Open) in his last three tournaments on the PGA Tour, he will face Rory McIlroy as one of his main rivals. The Northern Irishman, ranked second in the world, has not won a Major in ten years (The Open, July 2014).

In the 16th Masters of his career, he will try for the tenth time to complete the "Grand Slam" to join the likes of Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, and Woods in history. "Sooner or later, he'll make it, I'm sure," Woods opined.

In this tournament, which has so far eluded him, McIlroy has achieved seven Top 10 finishes, including a second place in 2022. Only 60th in 2023, coming off a third place in the Texas Open, to win the Masters, he has relied on swing guru Butch Harmon, revolutionizing his preparation and deciding to skip the traditional "Par 3 Contest," the champions' show with their families tomorrow ahead of the contest.

Then it's serious, with Nicklaus, Player, and Tom Watson symbolically starting the challenge as "honorary starters." After many years, there won't be any Italians in the field, not even Francesco Molinari, who came close to the greatest achievement of his career at Augusta in 2019.

Italy will still be represented. Lorenzo Gagli, who recently decided to retire from competitive play, will be the caddie for José María Olazábal. Not just any player but a timeless champion, already captain of the European team at the 2012 Ryder Cup, who has won the Masters twice: in 1994 and 1999.

Conversely, the absence of Angel Cabrera is notable. The Argentine, who won the Masters in 2009, was released from a Brazilian prison last August after serving two-thirds of his sentence (3 years and 10 months) for domestic violence but is currently unable to enter the United States.

There are eighteen past winners in the field, seven of whom are from the Arabian Super League (including Phil Mickelson, second in 2023 alongside Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson). The prize money is still top secret, and among azaleas and magnolias, on the course designed by Bobby Jones, among the golfing icons, it will be a show of competition.

The tournament that creates legends and guarantees a place in the history of sports and golf may well be decided on the "Amen Corner" (holes 11, 12, and 13), a creation of a Sports Illustrated journalist who borrowed the name from an old jazz tune, "Shouting at Amen Corner," in 1958.

Jon Rahm