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QUICK TAKE: Another Reed-Rory Battle Beckons

Patrick Reed (Photo: Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – When Saturday evening settled over Augusta National, the day’s last raindrops dying away with the roars that had rumbled across the third round of the Masters, there was time to contemplate the consequences of what might happen Sunday.

This is the Masters, the most soulful championship in the game, and as much as it’s about the place, it’s more about the players.

Maybe Sunday will surprise us, but it looks and feels like Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy are playing for a green jacket on what’s expected to be a cool April afternoon that will alter the career trajectory of whomever wins.

Maybe Rickie Fowler or Jon Rahm will sneak up from behind and steal away with their first major championship victory, but that’s likely to require help from both Reed and McIlroy. One might wobble but it’s unlikely both will.

It’s easy to say this is a reprise of the epic singles match Reed won against McIlroy in the Americans’ Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine in 2016, but this is different. That was team golf. This is the day, this is the chance they’ve devoted their lives to having.

Reed has never won a major championship. McIlroy has won all of them except the Masters.

“Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for something else,” said McIlroy, who can become only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam if he wins Sunday.    

Reed, who takes a three-stroke lead on McIlroy into the final 18 holes, plays on emotion, guts and attitude. He started Saturday with the lead, waited out a sluggish start while hearing cheers in the distance and then unloaded with a pair of back-nine eagles that almost literally shook the property.

McIlroy, meanwhile, is generally considered the most talented player in the game and he’s almost mesmerizing when he’s on form as he has been here.

It’s possible McIlroy can play brilliantly Sunday and it won’t be enough. Reed has played Augusta National’s par-5 holes in 13-under par through three rounds, which is why McIlroy cut his deficit by just two strokes despite shooting 65 Saturday.

McIlroy “rode my luck” to stay as close as he did to Reed. A fairway bunker shot that clipped a high lip at the fifth turned into a birdie. A hot pitch shot slammed into the flagstick and fell in for an eagle at the eighth. He found his golf ball in “a sea of pink” azaleas at the 13th and his tee shot at the 18th kicked into the fairway, setting up a closing birdie.

Sometimes that’s what it takes.

But Reed kept churning ahead. For the fifth time this week, Reed made three consecutive birdies (Nos. 7-9) to kick-start his round. His 4-iron approach into the 13th green was textbook, setting up his first eagle. Then he pitched in at 15 for another piece of crystal, the cheers reaching McIlroy on the 17th tee.

And it was a prelude to Sunday.

“I feel like all the pressure is on him. He’s got to go out and protect that (lead), and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big-time players. He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight,” McIlroy said.

“I feel like I can go out there and play like I’ve got nothing to lose. If I can do that, I feel like I’ll be OK.”

If the pressure is on Reed, he’s fine with that.

“I am leading. I mean, I guess so,” he said. “But at the same time, he’s trying to go for the career Grand Slam. You can put it either way. I mean, honestly, I mean, I woke up this morning, felt fine. Didn’t feel any pressure. Just came out and tried to play some golf.

“And I believe that’s how it’s going to be tomorrow. Wake up and just come out and play golf and whatever happens, happens.”


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