2020 Masters Choose Your Own Adventure, Rory McIlroy vs. Brooks Koepka: One Too Many Mistakes
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images. Pictured: Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy
The guy who is capable of hitting it like an 18-handicap at any moment.
Nobody finds their form at Augusta National. That’s not some hard and fast rule, it’s just the way it works. Either you’ve got it when you arrive or you play without it. There are no secrets to be dug out of the dirt during Masters week.
Koepka decidedly was not in form entering this week.
He hadn’t finished inside the top-15 at a tournament since last season’s finale, a combination of lingering injury and continuing swing tweaks and perhaps even proliferating apathy adding up to a mixed bag of mediocre results.
All of which could explain his mixed bag on the front nine, sort of emblematic of his entire season so far. Watching intently, you witnessed him at his best and, quite possibly, his worst.
If nothing else, it was a pretty damned fun roller coaster to observe.
It didn’t stop at the turn, either.
OK, you’ll admit it: Maintaining that Koepka hits it like an 18-handicap, even just once per round, is a huge stretch of the imagination. The better description is that he hits it like a plus-8 most of the time, but every once in a while looks like some hack scratch player instead.
Make that every twice in a while for the back-nine.
The shot that undid Koepka’s chances for last year’s title came on the 12th tee. It won’t be remembered nearly as much as Jordan Spieth’s struggles on this hole four years ago, when he hit two into Rae’s Creek and turned a commanding lead into a heartbreaking defeat, but it was clearly the difference between Koepka winning and losing.
Like Spieth, he rinsed his tee shot. Unlike Spieth, he was still about to save double-bogey. The differential at the end of that day was a lone stroke separating winner Tiger Woods from Koepka and the others in second place. Sure, there would’ve been other variables down the stretch if things had changed, but a par on that hole for Brooks instead of double and it’s easy to imagine that one of the most iconic victories in recent history never would’ve happened.
He’d like to imagine this one never happened, either.
Again, Koepka splashes one into Rae’s Creek. He knew it as soon as he swung. He doesn’t offer any reaction; he’s said in the past that any positive or negative emotion can be seen as a visual tell for players who aren’t in his pairing. It’s another double-bogey on the 12th.
That roller coaster soon swings back, though. He goes eagle-par-eagle for the next three holes, once again getting into position to make a run at the title.
And then comes the 16th hole.
Even with a back hole location, Koepka comes up two clubs short. Call it an unfortunate combination of a chunky swing, just when the wind shifts against him. You can’t imagine there will be many balls in the water on 16 in the final round — actually, this is the only one — and it leads to yet another double.
When he finishes, this time he slams his putter in frustration. Sure, it’s a visual tell, but so is the leaderboard. He’s the victim of too many mistakes at all the wrong times.