Augusta (United States) (AFP) – World number three Jon Rahm has a chance to follow in the legendary footsteps of Spanish compatriot Seve Ballesteros by winning a Masters green jacket at age 23.
Rahm fired a bogey-free seven-under par 65 in Saturday’s rain-hit third round at Augusta National to stand fourth after 54 holes on 8-under par 208, six strokes adrift of leader Patrick Reed.
Rahm had five birdies, including the first two holes, the 10th and back-to-backs again at 16 and 17 plus an eagle at the par-5 eighth.
A year after Spain’s Sergio Garcia won his first major title following 73 failures, his win coming on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol Ballesteros, Rahm matched the week’s low round.
He gave himself a chance to add to his country’s impressive Masters history, including two titles each for Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
“Doing it at Augusta, where all the Spanish history is so big with Seve and Sergio and Jose, it means a lot,” Rahm said.
Three-time British Open champion Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54, won his first Masters just four days after turning 23 in 1980 and added another green jacket in 1983.
“Seve inspired everybody, right? It’s just the fact that if you believe that you can do something, you’ll be able to accomplish it,” Rahm said.
“He was able to win here as the first non-American besides Gary Player as a 23-year-old. He actually had a huge lead here in the final round. He was doing unimaginable things, same way Tiger did the first time he won here.
“And then Sergio doing it, it’s something that just shows, I mean, maybe the Spanish character and the Spanish game is built for this place.”
Olazabal won in 1994 and 1999. Miguel Angel Jimenez was fourth in 2014, his best showing in 16 Masters starts. Ramon Sota was sixth in 1965 in an era when South Africa’s Player was the only non-US winner of the Masters.
“If they have done it before, and if Miguel has had a good history before and Seve before and Ramon Sota had a good history here before, why couldn’t I follow that?” Rahm asked.
“I’m just trying to follow the leader, get on the train at some point in my career. But still a lot of golf to be played for that point.”
– First-time major winner? –
While it won’t crush him if Sunday is not the moment, a great opportunity is on offer and within reach, given the best last-day fightback by a Masters winner was Jack Burke’s eight strokes in 1956.
And Rahm, whose best major showing was in his major debut when he shared 23rd as the low amateur in the 2016 US Open, could join the ranks of first-major winners.
Of the past nine major champions, eight were first-timers. Of course, neither Reed nor Rickie Fowler have won a major either and both stand ahead of him.
“Could be just coincidence or it could be a lot of these players have been close for a long time. Sergio has played good so many times in a major,” Rahm said.
“But it’s not too settling when I see in the top four, three of us have never won a major.”