The stage is set for the 82nd Masters Tournament to be a showdown – or stare down – between the marquee figures in the dramatic 41st Ryder Cup 19 months ago.
Patrick Reed shot a 5-under par round of 67 in the third round of the Masters on Saturday to stake a three-shot lead over Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy. The two will be paired together in the final group at Augusta National on Sunday.
The last time they went toe-to-toe with so much at stake was at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota in 2016, when United States Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III paired Reed against McIlroy on Sunday. What ensued was one of the most dramatic singles matches in Ryder Cup history, won by Reed.
“Really excited. Any time you can come out and have a lead on Sunday, you’re always going to be excited about it,” Reed told CBS Sports shortly after his round. “But to be able to play against Rory and to have him side by side with me, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
“Every time we play each other, we seem to have a lot of fun. And we seem to both play some good golf, so hopefully we can get some fireworks out there out there and have a fun Sunday.”
The forecast of heavy rain and winds never materialized Saturday, and the best players in the world took dead-aim at an August National course stripped of some of its teeth. The pin placements were made more accessible as organizers braced for the expected difficult conditions. Instead, players enjoyed softer fairways with greens that continued to run firm and true thanks to the sub-air system installed in the course.
Reed will begin the round at 14-under 202 for the tournament as he attempts to become the first player in modern Masters history to post three rounds in the 60s (69-66-67). McIlroy is three shots back, with the likes of Rickie Fowler (9-under), Spain’s Jon Rahm (8-under) and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (7-under) still within striking distance.
McIlroy, Fowler and Rahm all shot 7-under 65s on Saturday to tie for the low round of the tournament.
Reed, who had missed the cut in two of his previous four Masters appearances, had more eagles Saturday (two) than in his previous 14 rounds at Augusta National combined (one). That included a chip-in on No. 15 to extend his lead to five after narrowly clearing the water that Sergio Garcia dumped five balls into on Thursday.
It came just minutes after McIlroy had recovered from a wayward tee shot to birdie the same hole to reach 10-under for the first time this tournament.
McIlroy got off to a blazing start with three birdies and an eagle in a six-hole stretch on the front nine to make his turn in 31 shots. Along with the birdie on No. 15, he closed with a birdie on the final hole to post the third 7-under 65 of the round – joining Fowler and Rahm.
“I got on a nice little run there on the front nine, and the birdies sort of dried up a little bit,” said McIlroy. “But then to birdie two of the last four holes was huge. Patrick’s having a great day, and a great tournament. I least I’m closer to him than at the start of the day.
“I’m really excited to go out there tomorrow, show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got. All the pressure is on him tomorrow. He went to Augusta State. He’s got a lot of support here, and I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party.”
Fowler also played his way firmly into contention for his first major victory. He eagled the second hole and poured in five more birdies in posting his first career bogey-free round at Augusta.
“To make the putts that we did today, to make birdies, the eagle, but to also make some pretty good par saves to keep the round going … all in all, just a great moving day,” said Fowler. “It’s the round that I needed to give myself a chance.”
Rahm posted the first 65 on Saturday with a round that included an eagle on No. 8 to go out in 4-under 32 and three birdies over his final nine holes. Rahm shot a 75 on Thursday and was still 3-over for the tournament when he made his turn on Friday. Since then, he has played his past 27 holes in 11-under.
“I was playing really good golf even the first day, but I put two balls in the water the last six holes,” he said. “Yesterday on the back nine it kind of switched. I made a few putts, got the confidence going. Then today, just kept that going.
“I would say the biggest difference is hitting a couple more fairways and then being able to convert the putts. And then being a little lucky like with the chip-in on eight, and hitting the flag stick on 13 (after going in the water). You know, that is just part of days like today.”
Rahm is seeking to become the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters, joining Seve Ballesteros (1980, ’83), Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, ’99) and Garcia last year.
“Shooting 7-under here is like shooting almost 15-under somewhere else,” Rahm said. “Doing it at Augusta, where Spanish history is so big, Sergio being the defending champion and getting close to contention, so it’s really going to mean a lot.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood entered Saturday at even par for the championship, but got his round going with two birdies on the front nine. He then reeled off five consecutive birdies and had a chance to better Reed’s low round of the tournament to that point (66 on Friday) before three-putting the 18th hole to settle for a 6-under round.
“Apparently my iron play,” said Fleetwood, whose proximity to the hole with his approach shots Saturday improved by 16 feet from the previous round. “The course was playing a lot easier. The greens were pretty soft, the wind wasn’t really blowing very hard. If you don’t shoot a good score, today was the day to do it, really. It’s a bit weird to walk off disappointed with a 66.
“There’s nothing you can do about the other guys. So for me, it will be same as I did last night. Get some rest, just go out and see what we can do.”
All of those still in contention are at the mercy of Reed, who responded to every challenge from the surging first page of the leaderboard Saturday. It appeared he let a host of players back into the tournament with a bogey on No. 3. He then birdied four of his next six holes and recovered from a bogey on No. 12 with the two eagles.
He did drop a shot with a bogey on No. 17, potentially providing a bit more hope to the chasing pack.
“I can’t control what he does,” Fowler said. “Obviously, it’s tough to keep playing the way he is. Obviously he’s playing well. He’s riding the high, so I’m just going to go out and play my game. The golf tournament starts tomorrow on the back nine.”
“This is my first final group here since 2011,” said McIlroy. “I feel like I learned an awful lot from that day. Hopefully all that I did learn seven years ago I can put into practice today.
NOTES: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday and is 10 shots behind Reed at 4-under. That is one shot behind second-ranked Justin Thomas and No. 4 Jordan Spieth. … Tiger Woods shot an even par 72 and is 4-over. He bogeyed each of his first two holes before battling back with two birdies on the front nine, and played the back nine in even par as well. … Phil Mickelson shot a 2-over 74 and is at 7-over for the tournament. He triple-bogeyed the opening hole, including completely missing the ball while trying to recover from the trees. … Fleetwood is competing in his second Masters. He missed out on qualifying by a fraction of a point three years ago to Danny Willett, who went on to win the event.
–By Derek Harper, Field Level Media