After a breathtaking Saturday at the 2018 Masters, it is a return of Ryder Cup rivalry as Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy head out in the final group on Sunday.
Reed will have a three-shot advantage over the Northern Irishman, after posting a third-round 67. McIlroy was exceptional on Moving Day, carding a bogey-free 65 to put himself two shots clear of third, Rickie Fowler, and three ahead of Jon Rahm. Who will win on Sunday?
A case for Rory
This is Rory’s best chance to win The Masters since 2011 by some margin. The 28-year-old has been excellent this week at keeping errors off the card, which has been a weakness in the past at Augusta. Through three rounds, he has had just four bogeys.
A big reason for that is because the putter has been working. One of the big question marking heading into The Masters was whether McIlroy could keep his putting form going from Bay Hill or not, where he had his best ever performance en route to the victory.
So far so good at Augusta. McIlroy has not made everything he has looked at it, but he has made the important par putts, and knocked in his fair share of mid-range birdie putts as well. Complementing his putting, his short-game has been superb, notably leading to an eagle at the 8th hole, when he chipped in.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 7, 2018
A three-shot lead gives Reed the clear advantage on Sunday, but there were a few important developments late on Saturday that gave McIlroy a fighting chance. Reed had gone five shots clear after an eagle on 15, but gave a shot back with a bogey on 16. McIlroy then hit a beautiful iron into 18, and holed the putt for birdie, reducing the deficit to three shots.
Five shots is quite a margin to lead, but a three-shot lead can change easily. If a nervous Reed begins bogey-par-par to McIlroy’s par-birdie-birdie, certainly a conceivable scenario, the players are immediately level and it’s a straight shootout.
“It’s massive to be in the final group for the first time here since 2011,” said McIlroy. “I feel like I learned an awful lot that day and hopefully I can put that into practice tomorrow.
“I’m really excited to show everyone what I’ve got, to show Patrick Reed what I’ve got and all the pressure is on him. He went to Augusta State and has a lot of support and I’m hoping to come in here and spoil the party.
“Patrick’s got a three shot lead, I feel like all the pressure’s on him. He’s got a few guys chasing him who are pretty big time players. He’s got that to sleep on tonight.”
McIlroy has been there, and done that, with four majors in the bag. The Holywood man is high on confidence with a clear mindset of chasing the American.
This is the first time that Reed has slept on a lead in a major. Can he handle the pressure?
A Case for Reed
There are few golfers in the world that are more confident than Patrick Reed, and that shows on the golf course. The 27-year-old has rubbed a few the wrong way over the years with his brash, chip-on-the-shoulder style.
He has, however, used that to his advantage on several occasions, most notably in Ryder Cups. Reed has been nicknamed ‘Captain America’ for his exploits in that competition, with a superb 7 points from 9 matches in the 2014 and 2016 Ryder Cups.
Reed even beat Rory McIlroy in the last Ryder Cup, ending McIlroy’s unbeaten run in singles matches in the tournament. The American triumphed in a titanic battle with the Northern Irishman by 1 up. The front 9 was some of the best golf you could ever witness.
Reed has usurped Ian Poulter as the ‘King of the Ryder Cup’ since 2014, but that has not always translated well to individual golf. It must be said that Reed has an impressive five PGA Tour wins at just 27, including a World Golf Championship. But he is yet to win a tournament since the last Ryder Cup in 2016, for example.
It seems like Reed struggles to bring the intensity from the Ryder Cup to regular tournaments. Going for your first major title, playing alongside Rory McIlroy, is more than enough to get the juices flowing for Reed on Sunday.
The fact that he has such a gap over the rest of the field should favour Reed as well. Simply match McIlroy over 18 holes, and Reed should be putting on a Green Jacket.
A Case for the Field
Masters Sunday throws up many strange scenarios every year, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that somebody other than Reed or McIlroy will win the tournament.
The best chance of the chasing pack by far comes from Rickie Fowler at 9 under, who is only two shots behind McIlroy and five behind Reed.
While Reed and McIlroy produced fireworks when playing together at the 2016 Ryder Cup, what is forgotten about is that once they ran out of steam from pumping their chests and shouting at the top of their voices, they played some ragged golf on the back 9.
If this happens again tonight, then Fowler is excellently placed to pounce with another round in the mid-60s. There is no real pressure on the affable American, nobody is really expecting him to win, and he has the ability to go on sensational scoring runs, like he did when winning the 2015 Players Championship.
Just a shot behind him is Jon Rahm, another prestigiously talented player. If Rahm could somehow win the Masters, he would be only the third player in the history of golf to win from nine shots behind or more after the opening day.
Rahm has been exceptional over the past two days, and few players can attack a course like the young Spanish star, thanks to his length off the tee, and excellent iron game. The fact that he started so far back remains a concern however, can he muster up the energy to shoot a third consecutive round in the low to mid-60s to clinch the title?
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 7, 2018
After Rahm, there is Henrik Stenson at 7 under, who is set for the best Masters performance of his career. Then there are Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson and Marc Leishman at 6 under, with Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth at 5 under. Realistically, these players need one of the greatest rounds of their lives to make a dent on the lead, while hoping for a collapse from Patrick Reed.