2020 Masters Choose Your Own Adventure, Rory McIlroy vs. Brooks Koepka: Fork In the Road


Streeter Lecka/Getty Images. Pictured: Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy

“This hurts more than that time I tried to deadlift 450, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Isn’t the English language a funny thing? As soon as Koepka utters this sentence — about the pain from playing golf akin to that of a deadlift, but he’d try to play through it — it strikes you that never before has this exact string of words been said by anyone, especially not in anything close to this context.

When Tiger attempted to play through injury on so many different occasions, he was never overheard telling someone, “Yeah, this is from all my fake Navy SEAL training, which in retrospect probably wasn’t the best idea.”

It was Woods who is largely credited for starting the fitness movement at golf’s highest level. Not that it was all pasty middle-aged guys with potbellies before him, it’s just that it was mostly pasty middle-aged guys with potbellies before him. Tiger worked out and won, which spawned a copycat regimen for the rest of the game that continues today.

Perhaps it will take something like this to scale back that idea.

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Koepka is undoubtedly the fittest pro golfer right now, and the easy correlation is that he’s also been among the best. In-between his four majors, though, he’s dealt with a series of injuries, including the one that now shows his slight limp turning into a full-on hobble as he continues to play and heads toward the back-nine.

Kudos to him for gutting it out, but the voices of those in the gallery who questioned the severity of his pain have all been silenced, as it’s easily apparent now that this is no act. He’s yet to make a single birdie on the round, even carding an untimely bogey on the par-5 eighth hole. You get the sense that if this was any other tournament, any other round, anywhere else, he’d already be halfway home.

This is the final round of the Masters, though, and he’s giving it a good effort.

At the 12th hole — where he rinsed his tee shot during last year’s final round, eventually crushing his chances — Koepka again comes up short, but finds the front bunker. It’s already clear that bunker shots affect his knee more than others, maybe it’s the torque of trying to turn while his feet are buried an inch into the sand. This time, he swings and lets out an audible grunt, enough that everyone around you grunts in unison after him, a collective, “Ughhhhhh.”

The hobble now looks something like Koepka dragging his left leg behind him. “He’s gotta withdraw now,” the woman next to you says. You start to think she might be right.

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