Reed, McIlroy renew acquaintances at Masters

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Saturday was another installment of the Patrick Reed Master of the Universe Tour. It is the story of a golfer who is in the mid- to high-60s more than San Diego.

But, now, let the first Augusta National mock Ryder Cup commence.

It will be Reed and Rory McIlroy at 40 paces on Masters Sunday, reprising their memorable Ryder Cup match of 2016, this time not for nation but for clothing. Namely possession of a green jacket that some consider the height of fashion.

Reed maintained the lead he had at darkness Friday, shooting a third-round 67. It was his third round in the 60s this week, and it is worth noting that no one, repeat, no one has cobbled four such rounds at any Masters.

If Reed keeps this up he will find that this city has more to offer than even the two national championships he won at Augusta State. Who knew?

Three strokes back was McIlroy, the Northern Irishman with whom Reed did classic battle in the opening Sunday singles match of that ’16 Ryder Cup. Their loud, emotional back-and-forth was the kind of match that almost made golf as good as a contact sport. They started canning putts from the suburbs, one-upping each almost like siblings, shouting themselves hoarse and nearly dislocating shoulders in celebration. It included one four-hole stretch where they were a combined 9 under, before Reed eventually prevailed 1 up.

Where Sunday, Reed will be attempting to win his first major, McIlroy will be looking to add the only major that has eluded him and complete the career Grand Slam. Heavyweight stakes for a heavyweight matchup.

Although neither contestant expects the relatively refined setting of a Masters to compare with the frenzy of a Ryder Cup.

“It will be calmer,” Reed said. “There’s a lot of stuff you can do at a Ryder Cup that you can’t do at Augusta National.”

Granted, there are a few other actors in play. It’s just that you need a good pair of binoculars to see them all.

Continuing the Ryder Cup theme in Sunday’s penultimate pairing will be Rickie Fowler – at 9 under four back of Reed’s lead – and Spain’s Jon Rahm, 8 under. Both matched McIlroy’s 65 Saturday to insert themselves into the conversation.

After that, it’s gets a little blurry. Henrik Stenson (70 on Saturday) is seven off the lead at 7 under, with Tommy Fleetwood (66), Bubba Watson (68) and Marc Leishman (73) all eight back at 6 under.

The main characters kept trying to tell us Sunday isn’t a match play Masters.

“It's completely different,” Reed said. “You're talking about match play to stroke play and you're also talking about having Rickie, Jon Rahm, Stenson, Fleetwood and Bubba right behind us. I'm not going to be there focusing on Rory or really focusing on any of those guys. I'm just going to go out and try to play the golf course and try to play some good golf.”

McIlroy massaged the message in a way that might do him a little good on the psychological gamesmanship front. Just in case his playing partner doesn’t realize it, McIlroy is the proven champion in the pairing, a four-time major winner. “Patrick has got a three‑shot lead. I feel like all the pressure is on him. He's got to go out and protect that, 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.”

Even Saturday, though, took on a mano a mano feel. And when the light rains came, Reed wasn’t above employing a reminder of that kind of golf, unfolding an umbrella from the ’16 Ryder Cup.

Unlike their joust in Minnesota two years ago, Saturday’s was long distance. But about as interactive as could be considering they were in separate pairings.

One group ahead of the leader, McIlroy tied Reed at 9 under with a chip-in eagle on the par-5 eighth hole. The roars told Reed all he needed to know.

He had his answer ready. Within minutes, he birdied the eighth right behind McIlroy, starting a run of three consecutive birdies and confirming an iron grip on the lead.

His mindset walking down the eighth fairway was all very practical and professional. “The biggest thing is I knew that I was in a good spot to at least make birdie on that hole to try to regain the lead,” Reed said. “But I just know from that situation, I'm sitting in a good situation where I will still have one hole extra to play.

“So, whether he makes birdie or eagle on a hole, I still have that hole to play, and really, it wasn't as much going up against Rory as it was going out and posting a good number.”

What Reed has done to the par 5s here – which may be illegal in some states – has made all the difference. For the first time this week he failed to birdie a par 5 when he settled for par on No. 2 on Saturday. That only seemed to irritate him. All Reed did with the remaining par 5s Saturday was go birdie-eagle-eagle.

There has been this week the hint of sorcery around the Masters. We all knew the people running this show were rich and powerful and have presidents and princes on speed dial. We didn’t know they also had built a Hogwarts Express spur line straight to Magnolia Lane.

Just look at what has materialized already.

The rains forecast to turn the third round of the Masters into gentlemen’s mud wrestling never made good on the threat. The flowers had bloomed on cue this year. The par 3 contest was entertaining beyond all proportion. The registers at that new merchandise palace were weeping from exhaustion.

And now there came the kind of potentially classic head-to-head between powerful personalities that is often rare as a Sunday final round spreads out over acres of canvas.

Granted, it’s no breakthrough by Tiger Woods (who, by the way shot his best round of the week, a modest 72, Saturday). But you figure the way things have been going this week, something good comes this way Sunday.

If there is one more bit of magic the Masters has left, how about making time speed up, so that last tee time will get here all the quicker?