2020 Masters Choose Your Own Adventure, Rory McIlroy vs. Brooks Koepka: It Doesn’t Gett Better Than This
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images. Pictured: Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy
McIlroy and Koepka keep pace with each other, but pull away from the pack.
Golf doesn’t get much better than this.
The very nature of the game at its highest level suggests it is difficult, if not close to impossible, to have two of the best players pull away from the pack during a four-round event, essentially pulling away from the rest of the field.
Four years ago, it happened at The Open Championship. Henrik Stenson posted a final-round 63 to finish at 20-under at Royal Troon; Phil Mickelson closed with a 65 to finish at 17-under. The third-place finisher was another 11 strokes further back.
That almost never happens at a golf tournament, even less frequently happens at a major, and even less frequently than that happens at a major between two of the biggest names. Stenson and Mickelson were — and are — two world-class players, but nobody had been calling for a specific rivalry between the two of them entering that week.
The prospect of two players in such a situation is even less probable when it’s the ones everyone wish would forge a rivalry by battling it out in the final rounds of these majors.
And yet, here we are.
Birdie for McIlroy? Koepka counters. Koepka makes one? McIlroy counters.
Playing their own game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better, the fourth-to-last pairing turns out to be the headliner, a heavyweight title fight in the most exquisite ring you’ve ever seen.
After witnessing both players drop their tee shots on the devilishly short par-3 12th hole to within 5 feet, you proclaim to nobody in particular and everyone within a 20-yard radius that, “The Ryder Cup is happening right now, at Augusta National, and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Such a boisterous comment would’ve normally been uncouth for the civility of Augusta National, but at this very moment, people were doing everything but howling at a full moon that wasn’t in the sky.
Indeed, this was starting to feel like match play within a stroke-play tournament. By the time they’d tapped in their birdie putts on 12 and added fairly routine birdies on 13, McIlroy and Koepka were tied at 16-under, each 7-under for the day and now three strokes clear of the next closest competitor.
As you follow this pairing down the stretch, you watch them like a proud parent, confident in knowing that you checked the tee sheet before the round and decided to follow these guys for a reason — and they’ve now proven you right.
That said, it doesn’t answer the biggest question still lingering. As you watch the handheld scoreboard operator post a bogey for the nearest competitor, ensuring McIlroy and Koepka are now four strokes removed from everyone else, the only question still buzzing through the gallery is the obvious one: Which of these guys is going to win this thing?