Running is distinctly prohibited on this golf course, but apparently running away from the field is not.
No one’s come close to slowing down the cocksure Patrick Reed, a 27-year-old Texan who is threatening to wreak havoc on this vaunted piece of property with what will probably be a historic Sunday, perhaps no matter who wins.
How good has Reed been?
Just consider that the three players behind him on the Masters leaderboard all shot 65s for the low round of the day and still trail by sizable margins. Reed led by two strokes after 36 holes and expanded that advantage to three over Rory McIlroy and very nearly four if Reed’s birdie putt had fallen on the last hole.
And now in a rematch of their brilliant Ryder Cup matchup at Hazeltine in 2016, when Reed outdueled McIlroy, Rory’s aiming to complete the career Grand Slam and Patrick’s trying to slam the door on all those critics who wonder if he’s made of the right stuff. And that includes those on Twitter who don’t like him.
Asked why those on social media have an unhealthy dislike for the brash Reed, he replied: “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?”
Regardless, every objective person has to like his game. Through three rounds, Reed has scored more birdies (18) than anyone else in the field and more eagles (two) than anyone else but Jon Rahm and Texas amateur Doug Ghim. He ranks fifth in driving accuracy, 12th in hitting greens in regulation and first in drawing attacks.
McIlroy sure didn’t seem to mind using a bit of gamesmanship, Ryder Cup-style, to get under Reed’s skin.
“All the pressure’s on Patrick,” he said. “I’m just coming to try to spoil the party.”
Reed really wasn’t biting.
“I’m not out there to play Rory,” he said. “I’m out there to play the golf course. I’m going to do my thing and enjoy my Sunday.”
Reed didn’t succumb to the threat of other major champion wannabes like a rampaging Rahm and a hungry Rickie Fowler or shaggy-haired Englishman Tommy Fleetwood. Instead, he ripped through a soggy Augusta National Golf Club with four birdies and a pair of dynamic eagles en route to a 67 for his third round in the 60s.
He’s crushed the par-5 holes, going 13 under on them through three rounds. He birdied three straight holes, Nos. 8 to 10, Saturday. He even had three makable putts lip out, or he could really have made some separation.
No champion in the previous 81 years has ever toured the premises with four rounds in the 60s — not six-time champion Jack Nicklaus, not four-time winner Tiger Woods, not Arnold Palmer or Sam Snead — but the red-cheeked Reed is one round away from doing just that.
He might not just make history. He could shatter it.
And why not Reed, who idolized Woods from his days as a junior golfer? So enamored with Tiger was he that Reed wore a red polo shirt and black slacks on Sundays like his hero to display his reverence for the man with 14 major championships. On this occasion, Reed will switch to pink, which might be a wise choice, given how erratic Woods has been the past three days.
And though he might not be the most likely of winners since he hasn’t been in the winner’s circle since the Barclays almost two full years ago and had never had a single round in the 60s on this course before Thursday, he’s still ranked 24th in the world and has been on fire in this tournament from the outset.
Now he stands on the precipice of not only winning his first major championship but also flirting with setting an all-time mark in Masters history if he can best the four-day total of 270 set by Woods and matched by Jordan Spieth. A 67 would do it.
Besides trying to create some of his own history, McIlroy wouldn’t mind giving a little payback to Reed. When the two dueled in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Reed won with a birdie on the final hole to finish “one of the best matches we ever played,” not that such heroics are anything unusual for the San Antonio native who now lives in Spring.
“You’re not going up against America,” McIlroy said. “I’m sure he’ll have a lot of support (as an Augusta State alumnus). It won’t be quite as intense as that Ryder Cup match.”
It might be as far as Reed is concerned, and Reed said he does draw on that experience as well as his second-place finish to Justin Thomas in last year’s PGA Championship. The hero of Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups is so accustomed to pressure — he’s lost only twice in 13 matches in those arenas — that he’s not likely to choke.
So where did all those other champions go?
Spieth, so spectacular with his opening-round 66, has cooled off considerably. The former Texas Longhorn followed that with a 74 and then Saturday’s 71 to fall back in the pack, a whopping nine strokes off Reed’s pace.
He spent much of his day shaking his head in confusion or dismay. He scored three birdies but knew he had such a lower score within his reach.
“I’m not down,” said Spieth, who is in a tie for ninth and has never finished lower than 11th in four previous Masters. “I get to go out for one of my only stress-free rounds that I’ve ever really played at Augusta National tomorrow and enjoy the walk.”
And few know Reed better than Spieth, who says his buddy “isn’t afraid of challenges.” That’s the fighting spirit Reed hopes to tap into Sunday as if it’s Ryder Cup 2.0. To a point.
“It will be calmer,” Reed said. “There’s a lot of stuff you can do at Ryder Cup that you can’t do at Augusta National.”
Like running. Running away, however, seems within the rules.
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