Reed, McIlroy ready for Masters showdown

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Staring his opponent face-to-face, especially in front of a hostile crowd, brings out Patrick Reed’s best. He’ll meet a foe from one of his most memorable performances on Masters Sunday.

Reed will start the final round with a three-shot lead over Ryder Cup nemesis Rory McIlroy.

Sunday’s setting will be much different than the context of international Cup competition in which Reed has excelled. The patrons of Augusta National are too polite to be partisan, of course, and Reed has ties to the home of the Masters after leading nearby Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles.

He may not have a rowdy crowd to fuel his fire on Sunday, but Reed is facing an opponent much larger than a screaming mass of humanity.

Reed stands between McIlroy and the Career Grand Slam. Two impressive rounds in Saturday’s soft conditions set up this final-round showdown. Reed shot 67, including two eagles on Augusta National’s famed par-5s, while McIlroy was two shots better after a bogey-free round.

Reed insists that his focus will be on the golf course in the final round. Alister Mackenzie’s masterpiece is challenging enough, after all, but there's no way to ignore the stakes when he steps to the first tee Sunday.

“We’ll obviously still be feeling it,” McIlroy said. “It’s the last round of a major championship. Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for something else.”

That “something else” may be the biggest achievement in professional golf. Using McIlroy’s quest for history as motivation could work to Reed’s advantage. He said Saturday evening that he’s trying to tap in to the energy and emotion that he exhibits in match play. This is the man who shushed the Scottish crowd at Gleneagles. He hurt Jordan Spieth’s hand with a violent high-five after holing out for eagle at Hazeltine. His singles match against McIlroy in 2016 may have been the peak of his match-play heroics.

They played a four-hole stretch on Hazeltine's front nine in 9 under par. McIlroy held his hand to his ear after making a long birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, imploring the American fans to increase the intensity of their boos and jeers. Reed wagged his finger at McIlroy after making a birdie of his own on the same hole. Reed closed out the 1-up victory by hitting his approach shot to 8 feet on the final hole, setting off a celebration that whipped the crowd into a college-football frenzy.

On Saturday, Reed and McIlroy combined for nine birdies and three eagles. McIlroy nailed a bump-and-run into the hole for eagle on the par-5 eighth, punching downward in excitement as he tied the lead. Playing in the group behind, Reed responded with three consecutive birdies on Nos. 8-10. “I was able to get into that (Ryder Cup) mode,” he said.

Reed’s lead was down to two shots after his bogey at the 12th hole, but he responded with eagles on both 13 and 15. He pumped his fist furiously, showing the fire we’ve grown accustomed to in Cup competition, after chipping in on the par-5 15th. He was five shots ahead at the time, but his bogey at the par-3 16th and McIlroy’s birdie at 18 cut the advantage to three.

“Patrick has a three-shot lead,” McIlroy said. “All the pressure is on him. He has that to sleep on that tonight.”

A major is the next step in Reed’s progression. He already owns a World Golf Championship and a FedExCup Playoffs event among his five PGA TOUR victories.

McIlroy knows how to win majors – he owns four of them – but now he has the extra weight of a historic accomplishment on his shoulders. Only five men have won all four of golf's major championships.

How important is the feat? Tiger Woods called it “the ultimate” after completing the Career Grand Slam at St. Andrews in 2000.

Few know better than McIlroy that anything can happen on Masters Sunday. He may have finished in the top 10 in each of his past four trips to Augusta National, but this is the first time since 2011 that he’s had a realistic opportunity to win the Green Jacket. He started the final round with a four-shot lead, only to go down in flames with a final-round 80.

The tee shot that he hooked near the cabins left of the 10th fairway was the start of a second-nine 43. It was McIlroy’s first chance to win a major, and the only 54-hole lead he’s lost in one of golf’s Grand Slam event. It’s easy to say that McIlroy would already own all four major championships if he’d closed it out here seven years ago, but he isn’t so sure. He called that loss “a turning point in my career.”

“I feel like it made me a better player,” he said earlier this week. “I feel like it made me a better person.”

Reed and McIlroy can’t ignore the rest of the leaderboard on Sunday, though. Rickie Fowler is in third place, two shots behind McIlroy and five behind Reed. Jon Rahm is another shot back. Fowler and Rahm both shot 65 on Saturday.

But by the time the final group reaches Amen Corner, it could be a mano-a-mano duel. That's where Reed thrives. It’s a theme that dates back to his college days at Augusta State. He led the small school, which only competed at the Division I level in golf, to back-to-back NCAA titles. He went 6-0 in match play at those two NCAA Championships. His finest performance came against a hostile crowd. He beat Peter Uihlein, then the No. 1 amateur in the world, 8 and 7 in front of Uihlein’s home fans in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  

“They are going to have a good time going at it,” Fowler said of the two men in the Masters' final group.

And we’ll enjoy watching it. This could be the classic Masters that we all anticipated.
 

Tag: Rory McIlroy BBC Abu Dhabi Championship golfplus vietnam pga tour patrick reed golf hs golf masters augusta chervo vietnam golf golf vietnam

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