Reed, Rory and Rickie: The Masters set for most exciting climax in years after exhilarating Saturday shootout
That wasn't bad, was it?
Reed. McIlroy. Rahm. Fowler. Fleetwood. Watson. Stenson. After an arduous second round at Augusta that saw Patrick Reed's three-ball take almost six hours to play 18 holes, the tournament came to life on Saturday.
Our prayers were answered as an A-list cast of major champions and the game's most exciting talent offered up a riveting shootout that sets us up for an unmissable Sunday in front of the TV.
This edition of The Masters had been billed as the most hotly-anticipated in years. Of course, the man at the centre of the pre-tournament buzz was Tiger Woods. The four-time Masters winner's mere presence was enough to attract massive galleries to Augusta's beautifully manicured fairways for the practice rounds but, as the tournament has heated up, it's been left to the men who have kept the sport thriving in his absence to provide stellar entertainment.
They're all chasing Patrick Reed after the fiery American set a blistering pace to put himself in the driving seat to clinch the biggest win of his career. Reed started quietly enough and was +1 through four before picking up shots at the fifth, eighth and ninth.
He birdied 10 and gave it back at 12 before he started doing silly things. Two cracking shots into 13 set up an eagle and the 27-year-old Texan matched that at 15, with a glorious chip-in to get to -15. He is -13 for the par-5s this week.
A three-putt at 16 dropped him back to -14 before a clutch putt at 17 kept him there. Reed waved his magic wand one final time on the 18th fairway, sending an unerring approach to ten feet. He missed it, though but it still leaves him with a commanding three-shot cushion heading into the final round after a 67.
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 7, 2018
Rory McIlroy did his best to keep Reed honest. The Northern Irishman played as well as anyone out there and can rightly feel aggrieved that an excellent 65 still leaves him three adrift. The 28-year-old can feel hugely encouraged, however, by how he put his round together. He was aggressive, clinical and looked razor-sharp on the greens, all the way to pouring a brilliant birdie putt in at 18 to cap a productive day's work in style. Notably, he was bogey-free. Replicate such a controlled brand of golf and Rory will push Reed all the way.
Should Reed falter, McIlroy will have a golden opportunity to capitalise and finally capture that career Grand Slam.
There are a lot of players in with a chance, but the prospect of Reed and Rory in the final pairing is a mouthwatering one, particularly given their explosive meeting in the Ryder Cup singles at Hazeltine in 2016.
Jon Rahm enhanced his ever-growing reputation with a sparkling 65, which leaves the 23-year-old at -8 and very much in position to make it a Spanish double after Sergio Garcia's triumph 12 months ago.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) April 7, 2018
Rickie Fowler has never won a major. He's been close, with seven top-5 finishes, but the 29-year-old played as though he's determined to rid himself of the bridesmaid status. The Californian came flying out of the traps on Saturday, an eagle and three birdies helping him skip to the turn in 31. He wasn't done there, though, with further birdies at 15 and 17 on his way to a 65 to tuck him in nicely behind the leaders ar -9.
The supporting cast possesses serious pedigree, too. Tommy Fleetwood, the reigning Race to Dubai champion, shot 66 to catapult him up the standings. The Englishman's run of five birdies from 12-16 was something to behold and, while he was left with a sour taste in his mouth after a dropped shot to finish, he more than contributed to the fun.
Fleetwood is -6, alongside two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, who made his own move with a tidy 68.
And don't discount Henrik Stenson. The Swede has never finished in the top-1o at Augusta but could add a green jacket to the Claret Jug he won in 2016. He's at -7 after matching Friday's 70.
Not all the big names featured, though. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Spieth – world numbers one, two and four respectively – will need a minor miracle tomorrow after struggling to stick the pace. Johnson and Spieth, paired together, both shot 71, while Thomas managed one better.
While that trio may not have a say on Sunday, the quality of the players ahead of them means it's poised beautifully for what could be the most exciting Masters in recent memory.
Patrick Reed on holes 13, 14 and 15 this week ...
Round 1: -3
Round 2: -3
Round 3: -4
-10 in 9 holes. pic.twitter.com/aMtcMDdig1
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 7, 2018
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 7, 2018
Jon Rahm shoots a 65, the lowest round of the tournament so far,
The No. 3 player in the world hopes to be the second straight Spaniard to win the Masters (Sergio García) pic.twitter.com/DcZhOQoK8b
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 7, 2018