AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the wings of two eagles, so to speak, Patrick Reed stayed at the top of the Masters leaderboard and went back in time two years.
Knowing that he will be paired in the final group with Rory McIlroy on Sunday it was impossible not to think of his stirring match against McIlroy at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Reed found the comparison preposterous.
“It will be a lot calmer,” he said Saturday evening. “There’s a lot of stuff that you can do at Ryder Cup that you can’t do at Augusta National.”
True, the people who run the Masters never would encourage the raucous behavior — between and outside the ropes — that comes with the tense U.S. vs. Europe matches. But there figures to be fire inside both players in the last twosome as Reed, at 14 under par, goes for his first major title and McIlroy, at 11 under, goes for history and the career Grand Slam.
That was the result of a spirited Saturday with a bevy of low scores. McIlroy’s 7-under-par 65 tied Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm for best of the day and best of the week. Reed, with eagles on the par-5 13th and 15th holes, shot 67 and stayed in first place for a second day. There was just enough rain to take the sting out of the greens but not enough to cause havoc.
So, the course was soft and the talk was tough, at least from McIlroy. The four-time major winner from Northern Ireland painted himself as the underdog, citing the fact Reed played college golf nearby at Augusta State, asserting the pressure is all on his opponent and saying, “I’m hoping to spoil the party.”
Reed smiled when he was told of that sentiment and said, “It’s going to be a lot of fun. But really, I’m just going to do my thing and stick to my game plan and go out and enjoy my Sunday.” He had a good Saturday, pulling out of a brief tie with McIlroy at the top at 9 under.
Both players took pains to point out the presence of Fowler (9 under), Rahm (8 under) and others who could make things interesting with fast starts. “I’m not out there to play Rory. I’m out there to play the golf course,” Reed said. “At the end of the day if I go out and I feel pleased with how I play, then, you know, it should be an enjoyable Sunday night.”
He had an enjoyable Sunday morning on Oct. 2, 2016, when he went out against McIlroy in the opening singles match at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. The play was good and intense, with McIlroy having lost ground on the front nine despite having made five consecutive birdies. Reed won, 1-up.
Will that matter at Augusta on Sunday? “They’re polar opposites,” Reed said. Then again, he did add that he has been trying to build on his Ryder Cup experience during tournament play.
Jordan Spieth, his partner in U.S. team competitions (and who is nine shots back, having shot 71 Saturday), said, “Yeah, (making) two eagles is nice. Patrick is somebody who isn’t afraid of challenges, obviously, as we’ve seen in the past. It’s been kind of a major championship hump that he’s had to get over.”
McIlroy long ago cleared that hurdle, having won the U.S. Open, two PGA Championships and the British Open. But eight of the past nine majors, and the past three Masters, have been won by first-time major winners. “Could be just a coincidence or it could be a lot of these players have been close for a long time,” said Rahm, who also is seeking his first major.
In any case, Reed did not argue when he was told that the pressure was placed squarely on his shoulders by the other man in the final Sunday twosome. “I am leading,” Reed said. “But at the same time, he’s trying to go for the career Grand Slam. You can put it either way. Wake up and just come out and play golf and whatever happens, happens.”