Patrick Reed leads Masters but bullish Rory McIlroy closes the gap to three

The American had two eagles on his third round but the Northern Irishmans 65, seven under par, equalled the working day lowest round

If the golf even approaches the heights of the buildup, stay where you are for quite a demonstrate. Who said the Masters begins only on the Sunday back nine?

Eighteen months have passed since Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow in an epic Ryder Cup tie. We ain’t seen nothing yet. This combat for a Green Jacket promises to be one for the ages, with Reed holding the ace card of starting Sunday three ahead. Fourteen under plays 11 under.

Reed emerged victorious from that electric Hazeltine encounter, with McIlroy subsequently admitting fatigue got the better of him. On Sunday in this, the 82 nd Masters, the Northern Irishman need only maintain control of his fluctuating emotions as the tantalising prospect of a clean sweep of major championships homes into view. There is no question of tiredness halting McIlroy now but Reed’s stubbornness in opposition cannot and will not be taken gently. Reed could become the first ever Masters winner to shoot four sub-7 0 rounds.

McIlroy has waited seven years to be in the last Masters pairing. How he reacts will draw glances from beyond golf. It is scarcely a leap of faith to point out the majority within the sport will root for the Ulsterman. McIlroy himself was brilliantly bullish on Saturday evening as he firmly laid down the gauntlet to Reed. McIlroy’s day-three 65 outscored Reed by two.

” Patrick has a three-shot lead; I feel like all the pressure is on him ,” said McIlroy.” He has got to protect that and he has some pretty big-time players behind him. He has to sleep on that tonight. I feel like I have nothing to lose.

” My game is right there. I don’t feel like there is any shot on the golf course that I can’t execute and I think I’ve shown that in the last three days. This isn’t my first time in this position. I have a lot of experience and experience that I have learnt from, good and bad .”

In a further, obvious jab McIlroy added:” I know what it’s like to be in that stance. It isn’t easy, especially if it’s your first time. I’m going to free-wheel it and play like I have nothing to lose, everything to gain. Which is true .”

Reed had dropped a shot at the 12 th pit when watching his result over McIlroy reduced to two. The combat was on; the Northern Irishman saved par from the middle of an azalea bed ahead at the 13 th. Proof that Reed absence nothing in competitive spirit was to follow.

Reed’s 215 -yard approach to within 14 ft of the 13 th pit might be the shoot of this tournament. The Texan duly converted for an eagle. That Reed may have the golfing deities, as well as obvious talent, in his corner could be readily inferred two holes afterward. Reed, in a tricky lie 30 yards out from the flag on 15, chipped in for another two-stroke boost. For McIlroy hope, unlikely hope, appeared one pit afterwards as Reed three-putted for a bogey. Better was to come for McIlroy before he strode so purposefully from the 18 th green following a birdie. Reed missed an opportunity for the same.

It would be folly to believe only two players can win this major. At any other venue this would be a two horse race but fortunes can switch so rapidly at Augusta National that the leaderboard as a whole must be considered.” There’s a lot more players in this tournament than Patrick Reed and I ,” McIlroy warned.” Guys can get off to hot starts on a Sunday here .”

A host of illustrious names lurk with intent. Rickie Fowler is the most prominent among them, his 65 entailing a 54 -hole total of nine under. This was Fowler’s lowest ever major championship round and his first bogey-free round at the Masters.

Jon Rahm would love nothing more than to receive a Green Coat from his fellow Spaniard, Sergio Garcia. Rahm’s third round of 65- matching Fowler and McIlroy as the best rating of the day- moved him to minus eight. Recent history tells Rahm will not buckle under pressure should he find himself in a position where winning is possible. His credentials should be taken seriously.

Henrik Stenson is seven under. Bubba Watson has improved his scoring in each round of this event. A 68 moved him to six under. He has Tommy Fleetwood for company there.

Not even a bogey at the last could remove the smile from Fleetwood’s face. In only his second Augusta appearance the Southport man produced a Saturday 66. Can he win? “I’ve no idea,” responded Fleetwood. Which does not mean by any stretching that he will not try.

He added:” I’ve watched the Masters in the past and I know anything can happen. I suppose it depends on how many players there are that are up there in the mix but it doesn’t matter that much to me. I’m just happy that I shot that rating today and set myself into some kind of spot on the leaderboard. It was just nice to do that, actually. Two years ago, I was not close to being part of this.

” As much as it suits my eye, and hopefully I’ll have many more days where I’ll play the tournament, there’s so much to learn on the golf course. And I’m kind of actually enjoying doing it. You know, we turn up at so many tournaments and we have two days to prepare and you can generally get a really good feel for it.

” At Augusta, “youve never” feel like you’ve done enough. You never feel like you can actually do enough. I’ve enjoyed that side of it .”

A 72 from Tiger Woods retained his plus four total. Woods again bemoaned poor iron play, with the returning 14 -times major champion setting a Sunday target of returning to even par by the end of round four. Such an ambition, of course, is a far cry from the aspirations of the masses as Timbers entered this tournament. He will, at least, move back inside the top 100 of the world rankings from next week.

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