AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Masters morning rundown, your one-stop shop to catch up on the action from Augusta National. Here’s everything you need to know for the morning of April 8.
Reed playing for himself on Sunday
The idea of nonpartisanship in the Augusta National galleries is a lie. The fans will be pulling hard for Rory McIlroy on Sunday, with reason. McIlroy is one of the more popular figures in the game, and he’s knocking on history’s door, his win bestowing the final leg of the Grand Slam. The roars will be with Rory, hoping to push him over this precipice.
Patrick Reed doesn’t give a damn about that.
Reed, who enters Sunday with a three-shot lead, is focused on one thing and one thing only in Round 4: himself.
“I have no idea, and honestly I don’t really care what people say on Twitter or what they say if they are cheering for me or not cheering for me,” Reed said Saturday night. “I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf. I feel like if I’m doing it the right way, then that’s all that really matters.”
The 27-year-old can make history of his own, trying to become the first player to shoot in the 60s in all four days of the tournament. A win could open the floodgates, spurring him to all those ambitions that make one a top five player in the world. To earn those accolades, Reed has 18 holes ahead.
“I’m not out there to play Rory. I’m out there to play the golf course,” Reed said. “At the end of the day, if I go out and I feel pleased with how I play, then it should be an enjoyable Sunday night. But really, I’m just going to go out there and enjoy the day, play some golf and, hopefully, go out and shoot another round in the 60s.”
Rory’s second chance
Rory relationship with Augusta National has been a mixed bag. He has logged four consecutive top 10s at the Masters, yes, but McIlroy’s name at this tournament conjures images of the Irishman standing in the cabins off the 10th hole, a four-shot final round lead spiraling into a T-15 finish.
Seven years later, McIlroy has a chance to right that wrong.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance, to be honest,” McIlroy said. “I always have said that, you know, 2011 was a huge turning point in my career. It was the day that I realized I wasn’t ready to win major championships, and I needed to reflect on that and realize what I needed to do differently. But now I am ready. I learned a lot from it.
That he can take down his Ryder Cup nemesis Reed in the process is icing on the cake.
“I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said. “He’s got to go out and protect that, and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big‑time players. He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight. I feel like I can go out there and play like I’ve got nothing to lose. If I can do that, I feel like I’ll be OK.”
He’s played with a poise that’s escaped him at this course, picking his spots and playing aggressive only when he needs to. That calculative game plan has paid dividends thus far, and and instilled a confidence that McIlroy hasn’t flaunted in quite some time. That pressure Rory mentioned could be to the tournament’s gravity and weight. Or it could be the force McIlroy plans on applying to Reed Sunday afternoon.
Can Rickie roar back?
Thanks to a hot putter and solid iron work, Rickie Fowler turned in a bogey-free 65 on Saturday. It tied for the low round of the tournament and jumped him into contention, finding himself in the Masters’ penultimate group for the second year in a row.
Of course, Saturdays have never been the issue for Rickie Fowler.
Fowler’s failure to close has been a stigma that’s followed him since 2014, when he finished in the top five of all four majors yet left without a trophy. Those rumblings turned into audible doubt after falling short at Erin Hills last summer and recycled after stumbling in Phoenix this season.
However, reputations can be changed, and Sunday gives Fowler this opportunity. All attention will be on Reed and McIlroy. Five shots behind the leader, no one’s really expecting Fowler to contend. Yet beautiful, wacky things transpire at Augusta National, one of the many reasons why it’s golf’s ultimate theater. And stealing its spotlight can be a career, and reputation, defining performance.
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Tiger, for once, takes a backseat
It’s not often that Tiger Woods is a secondary news item. That’s the space the 14-time major winner occupied on Saturday. Barely making the cut, Woods needed to go low to even get himself in the outskirts of contention. Despite easy scoring conditions, he failed to do so, his driver again wreaking havoc (just four fairways) and distance control with the irons noticeably off. The result was an even-par 72, 18 shots back of the lead.
“I didn’t feel very good with my irons and it showed,” Woods said. “It’s been scratchy this week. I just haven’t gotten it done. … My swing’s just off with my irons just at the wrong time.”
Sticking with this year’s theme of par 5 struggles, Woods failed to take advantage of Augusta National’s long holes, playing them in just one under on the week. (For comparison, Reed is 13 under on par 5s.)
It’s worth remembering that six months ago, Woods didn’t know if he was going to play competitively again. Tiger’s inspiring displays at Innisbrook and Bay Hill raised expectations, showing he can be a formidable player in his 40s. But as this week illustrated, majors are a different animal, and his return, his process, remains in its fledgling stages.
Phil does Phil things
Only Phil Mickelson can make second-to-last place a thrill ride.
On the the first hole Saturday morning, Mickelson made triple bogey. That’s burying the lede, for one of those seven strokes was a whiff. Not a cold top, shank, blade; a straight “Grandma playing for the first time” woooooshhhh.
I mean, the man didn’t come close to contact.
But you can’t keep Mickelson down for so long, as he turned the jeers into cheers by going driver off the deck on No. 8:
He would convert the putt for an eagle, bagging some crystal in the process. The final damage for Mickelson was a two-over 74, seven over for the tournament and 21 shots back of Reed. Still, if you’re going to be out of the running, might as well do it in style.