2018-04-07 20:45:05
Patrick Reed Leads the Masters, With Rory McIlroy’s Grand Slam Hopes Lurking

20:45, April 07 283 0

AUGUSTA, Ga. — One round now separates Rory McIlroy from one of golf’s most elite constituencies. If he can reel in Patrick Reed, his Ryder Cup nemesis and the Masters’ 54-hole leader, on Sunday, McIlroy will become the sixth player — and the first since Tiger Woods in 2000 — to complete a career grand slam.

Playing in the group directly ahead of Reed, McIlroy carded a seven-under-par 65 in the third round, tying for Saturday’s low score with Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm, who are in third and fourth place, respectively. With his 54-hole total of 11-under 205, McIlroy finished the day three strokes behind Reed, who posted his third consecutive sub-70 round, a 67, on the soggy Augusta National course.

“I’ve been waiting for this chance,” said McIlroy, 28, who won four majors before the age of 26 in part because he does not possess a deep reservoir of patience.

This year he has poured his energies into thinking only of the shot ahead of him instead of dwelling on the milestones in his sight. The shift in focus has brought McIlroy intoxicatingly close to a piece of history that turned as vexing as Rae’s Creek in his three previous visits to the Masters.

In each of those instances, McIlroy arrived at Augusta with the career grand slam in his sights, and each time the anticipation and hype, coupled with his own intense desire to succeed, led to slow starts and anticlimactic top-10 finishes.

“I nearly built it up in my head a little too much,” McIlroy acknowledged.

This time, though, may be different. After opening this Masters with scores of 69 and 71, McIlroy produced a highlight reel of a round on Saturday to keep the pressure on the 27-year-old Reed, who has never won a major.

McIlroy made a birdie at the par-3 sixth after he nearly holed his tee shot, chipped in for an eagle at the par-5 eighth, salvaged an improbable par from an azalea bush at the 13th and finished with a birdie at 18, with a 17-foot putt, but only after his drive caromed off a tree and into the fairway.

“I rode my luck out there a little bit,” McIlroy said. He said he hoped he would not “ have to rely on it too much tomorrow.”

McIlroy vowed at the start of 2018 to think less and play by feel more, or as he put it, “not trying as hard, being a little more instinctive.”

On the par-5 13th on Saturday, McIlroy turned his words into action. A steady rain turned into a downpour as he prepared to hit his second shot. His club slipped out of his hands after impact, and the ball landed in an azalea bush, which he described as “a sea of pink.”

Instead of dropping his shoulders and bemoaning his bad luck, McIlroy waded into the flowers, found his ball and activated his imagination, punching out and getting up and down for par.

In the first three rounds, McIlroy played the par-5s in eight-under par. He has had to keep firing at the pins whenever possible to keep pace with Reed, who played the par-5s in five-under on Saturday, with a birdie at No. 8, an eagle at No. 13 and then a chip-in eagle at No. 15. Reed is 13 under on the par 5s for the week.

“To be able to go out and capitalize on those par 5s and to make a lot of birdies there, it kind of allows you to be really aggressive when you feel like you’re really comfortable with a shot,” Reed said, adding: “It’s just one of those things that you kind of have to do around here because you’re not going to shoot a low score if you don’t. “

Woods, a four-time Masters champion, can attest to that. In 20 prior appearances at Augusta National, he played the par 5s in 150 under. But Woods is only one under on those holes for this tournament after covering them in one over in his third-round, even-par 72. “I’m not taking advantage of the par 5s and consequently a good round is even par,” Woods said.

Through 54 holes of his first major start since 2015, Woods is four over, 18 strokes behind Reed. Woods and Phil Mickelson, who has three Masters titles, produced an Alice-in-Wonderland moment early in the day when their names briefly occupied the bottom two positions on the scoreboard. The up-is-down, down-is-up visual came after Woods made bogeys on his first two holes while Mickelson got off to a triple bogey-bogey start.

After a wayward opening drive, Mickelson hit a tree trunk on his downswing and whiffed his second shot. To add injury to indignity, he conked his head on a tree branch on his follow-through.

The pairing of Reed and McIlroy will be a special treat in the banquet that is a Masters Sunday. At a 2016 Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine National, Reed and McIlroy electrified the crowd before Reed eked out a 1-up victory.

McIlroy may be the one going for a career grand slam, but he slyly cast Reed, who played college golf at nearby Augusta State, as the one who will have to stare down all the pressure.

“He’s got to go out and protect that lead,” McIlroy said. With a smile, he added, “Patrick’s going for his first major title, and I’m going for something else.”