2016 Ryder Cup hero and 2017 PGA runner up, Reed is in position to win at Augusta
The final pairing at The Masters will be a rematch of the headline matchup at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Tournament leader Patrick Reed will be paired with Rory McIlroy, with Reed three strokes clear. Both are looking for their first green jacket, but Reed is also looking for his first major championship.
A frequent complaint about golf’s incredible crop of under-30 talent is how subdued they tend to be throughout both their wins and their losses. Patrick Reed will never be accused of being subdued. At the 2016 Ryder Cup, Reed’s fist pumps and exclamations were some of the highlights of the entire event. Now those emotional outpourings are taking place on perhaps golf’s biggest stage at Augusta.
Reed will have to share that big stage with Rory McIlroy, also his opponent on the final day of the 2016 Ryder Cup in one of the most memorable rounds in the history of match play golf. There, the two traded emphatic fist pumps and shouts as Hazeltine National erupted around them.
Now, a rematch. On the line for McIlroy: The career grand slam, an amazing accomplishment for a player under thirty. For Reed, it’s a chance to win his first major and take another step in a career that has already seen him win a Ryder Cup and finish second at the 2017 PGA Championship.
This is not to say that The Masters is down to just two people. While Reed has a cushion over McIlroy, Rickie Fowler went -7 on Saturday to get to -9 for the tournament and leave himself within striking distance.
Jon Rahm, another of the young phenoms that are taking over golf whether people like it or not, matched Fowler’s 65 with one of his own, moving him to -8. A rough day by the final pairing, or another surge by either Rahm or Fowler, and either of them could take the green jacket as well.
All four of the players near the top are looking for their first Masters, and three of them have yet to win a major. At the same time, all four are so good and so young that major titles (or in Rory’s case, more major titles) seem almost inevitable. Reed is 27, McIlroy 28, Fowler is 29, and Jon Rahm is just 23.
It’s all yet another signal that the PGA TOUR itself has entered another era. The top ten for this tournament (counting ties) features just three players over the age of thirty in Henrik Stenson (-7), Bubba Watson (-6), and Marc Leishman. The others are all under that number, including Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth at -5. The two longtime friends will play together today.
Nine of the last twelve majors were the winner’s very first major trophy. The other three were won by Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, and Jordan Spieth again. Unless McIlroy wins, that would be another first-time major winner.
Golf’s field is about as loaded as it has ever been. Call it the true Tiger Effect, call it anything you want, these young players are something special. The field is wide open now, and full of players who could post an eye-popping score in any tournament. With a third straight -66, Reed could potentially finish a major at -20, but it also wouldn’t be too surprising to see Fowler or Rahm do even better than their Saturday 65s, as well as we know both can play.
Reed got here on the strength of an excellent Friday and a steady Saturday, both in the afternoon with a course that became easier to play throughout the day each of those days. Friday’s 66 put the 27 year old in the lead coming into the weekend, and he played the round a leader has to play on moving day.
Saturday brought some rain to Augusta. Rain is good for low scores, as it softens the greens and makes it easier to put a ball close. This led to golfers making a charge up the leaderboard. McIlroy started the round at -4 for the tournament. He had fallen to -9 by the time he made the turn. Rickie Fowler started at -2, but he hit the tenth tee at -7 and right in contention. Fowler finished at -9. Jon Rahm started the day at -1 and finished at -8, another young phenom getting himself within striking distance. Tommy Fleetwood went from even par to -6, at least close enough to have dreams about it on Saturday night.
With some of the best in the world putting up such fine scores, Reed couldn’t settle for par in order to hold his lead. Starting the day at -9, Patrick Reed made the turn at -11.
On 13, he was the second player all day to post an eagle. It took him to -13 and gave him some breathing room at the top as McIlroy tried to close in. On the par 5 15th, he chipped in for a second eagle, dropping to -15. After a bogey on 16, Reed finished the round at -14 with a three shot lead over McIlroy.
Perhaps the lasting image of this Masters instead will be Rory McIlroy hitting a shot from the azaleas on 15, part of a remarkable scramble for par. If he can win, that scramble will live on in Augusta lore as the shot that saved Rory’s moving day.
Having the lead at Augusta on Sunday is a precarious position. Greg Norman was one of the defining golfers of his generation, but his most famous moment is when he failed to close out the 1996 Masters with a seemingly prohibitive lead after 54 holes.
Likewise, McIlroy had a lead at Augusta in 2011 of four strokes over Charl Schwartzel among others. Schwartzel wound up winning the tournament after McIlroy posted an adventure of an 80 where he found parts of Augusta that cameras had never seen before.
Now it will be Rory McIlroy playing from behind, hoping to catch up to Reed. A rematch with Augusta, and Reed ahead for McIlroy. It could be one to remember among the azaleas.