Syndication: The Augusta Chronicle

Brooks Koepka has developed a reputation as a ruthless champion. You don't run through the world of golf while becoming the fastest to ever go from zero major championships to four if you're not. There is a level of admiration and respect for what Koepka has done and may possibly do in the future.

But a realization was necessary Sunday at the 2023 Masters: This isn't 2017-19 anymore, and Koepka -- at least on major Sundays since -- may no longer be that guy. Koepka's final-round 75 at the 2023 Masters, ceding the green jacket to a surging Jon Rahm (who ultimately won by four strokes), was just the latest instance of disappointment the four-time major champion has endured since his last major title.

Koepka began the final day at Augusta National Golf Club with a four-stroke lead and one arm slipped into the green jacket. Well aware of the stakes and knowing a win this week would mean the career grand slam would be on the line later this summer at The Open, the 32-year-old Floridan never looked comfortable.

As if fitted for a 44 regular but squeezed into a 40 slim, Koepka saw his lead halved by the time the third round was completed. Despite this minor slip up, it was still a distinct possibility his fifth major championship would be the end result. Having previously converted all three of his 54-hole leads in major wins, there were no signs of this time being any different. Until there were.

Punched in the mouth by Rahm on the 3rd and a self-inflicting wound on the fourth saw his lead vanish less than a one-third into the deciding round. Two holes later, Koepka fell out of a share of the lead for the first time since Thursday afternoon with another sloppy mistake. 

"I just kind of played average," Koepka told CBS Sports' Amanda Renner after his round. "I didn't get any good breaks, either. …That's how it goes sometimes. But I didn't feel like I played too bad."

During that 2017-19 period, those blunders would have never happen and those breaks would have never been needed. Short siding himself, looking for buttons to press when nothing needs to be pressed, seemingly losing all speed control on the greens overnight -- shortcomings add up. On major championship Sundays, they have added up quickly for Koepka.

Since his last major championship, Koepka has played himself into contention more times than not. He looked like a world-beater the first 54 holes -- particularly the first 42 before inclement weather ended play early Saturday -- but a stark contrast has arrived to the golf course the final 18. This week was unfortunately no different.

"I've known this for a while, but I guess it was just a matter of going out and doing it," Koepka said of his return to form. "I led for three rounds and just didn't do it on the last day. That's it. Plain and simple."

He played his final 13 holes in 1-over fashion when he fell to Gary Woodland at the 2019 U.S. Open. After disavowing his good friend Dustin Johnson, whom he trailed by two, Koepka shot a final-round 74 at the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park to fall outside the top 25. Another 74 followed the final day at the 2021 PGA Championship when a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson pulled the rug from underneath him.

Once Rahm seized control of the 87th Masters, there was nothing Koepka could do no matter how hard he tried. The former alpha's nightmare had once again become reality. Finding himself five strokes adrift thru 14 holes -- a nine-stroke turnaround from when play resumed early on Sunday -- a realization must have engulfed him: He is no longer the apex predator.

Koepka said as much in Netflix's "Full Swing," but to live it out once more in color is no easy pill to swallow. While crash and critical, the fall of mighty titans amid mighty runs is nothing new in the game of golf.

"You have a two-year period where you peak," three-time major champion Padraig Harrington once said. "You have two seasons, 18 months, where you've peaked. And you could go to everybody's career, they have two seasons, 18 months, where they play above themselves. And, of course, once you've done that, it's very hard to live up to it, because not only are you trying to live up to the best you played, you're trying to live up to the best you thought you played."

Koepka certainly sounds like a man still in his peak, but he performs as one who is on the other side. Trying to convince himself the best is still in front knowing that more than likely it is behind. A four-year major championship drought is nothing in the game of golf — just ask Rory McIlroy, Mickelson, the list goes on; after all, there are only just four a year. Picking them off is tough work, and damn near impossible for some.

But Koepka has never been "some" ... until maybe now. 

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Greg DuCharme to break down Jon Rahm's win at the 87th Masters Tournament. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.