Rory Aims to Chase Down Patrick Reed to Make History at Augusta
RORY McILROY will step onto the first tee at Augusta today believing that he has a date with destiny, that this is finally the day when he wins The Masters and completes the career Grand Slam - a feat achieved by just five other golfers, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It is a club he has been waiting to join since his victory in The Open in 2014.
After a third round of 65, he will start the day on 11 under par, three shots behind Patrick Reed, who produced a 67 of his own. But McIlroy knows from bitter experience that such a lead can soon be frittered away at Augusta. In 2011 he led by four going into the final round and crashed and burned to a gut-wrenching 80. He will also know, after a day of sensational scoring, that another low score is out there.
We had all hoped that the first major of 2018 would live up to the hype, and, notwithstanding the disappointing and entirely understandable poor performance by Tiger Woods, it has delivered in spades. We are in for a final round for the ages, with a host of the world's leading golfers in with a chance of walking away with the Green Jacket.
Undoubtedly, the man who wants it most is McIlroy, who producing some astonishing golf, along with a helping of good fortune along the way.
Reed made a nervy start to his third round, dropping a shot at the third, but he got it back at the fifth. They were gathering behind him. McIlroy, with three birdies in his first six holes, had moved to seven under, alongside Marc Leishman and Rickie Fowler, who was having one of those days. The 29-year-old American eagled the par-five second and then added birdies at the fifth, sixth and eighth holes. He reached the turn in 31.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, of England, had shown what was possible by shooting a 67 to move back to level for the week. Only Stenson and Spieth, of those who began the day at the top of the leaderboard, dropped shots early on.
Jon Rahm was six under, having begun the day one under par, Tommy Fleetwood played his way into contention, and so it continued.
But through it all, Reed stood firm, hitting a succession of glorious irons shots that went unrewarded as his putter, red hot for the first two days, cooled down somewhat.
Back and forth it went on a thrilling afternoon. McIlroy chipped in for an eagle three at the eighth. Had the ball not hit the pin it would have finished 20 feet beyond the holed. Nine under par, tied with Reed. Moments later the American birdied the same hole to nose in front once more. He also birdied the ninth and 10th holes. Those who had expected a meltdown were to be disappointed. Reed was 12 under par, three ahead of McIlroy.
And from nowhere came Tommy Fleetwood. He began the day on level par, nine behind Reed. There was little sign of the fireworks to come when he birdied the first and ninth holes to reach the turn in two under par. But then came the sort of run of which dreams are made. The Englishman birdied the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes. He was now seven under par, and just three behind Reed. And he was relishing every single moment of it.
He left his approach to the 18th a long way from the hole. Sadly, he took three putts to drop his only shot of the day, but his 66 took him to six under par and still represented his best effort in a major.
Rahm's magnificent day continued. He had begun the week with a 75 and was in danger of making an early exit, but he rallied with a 68 and the young Spaniard went out in the third round and produced a round of golf that Seve Ballesteros would have been proud to call his own. Five birdies, one eagle and 12 pars all added up to a 65 and took the big man to eight under par.
Rickie Fowler is a man who, by his own admission, should have achieved more by now. He should certainly not still be looking for his first major. The 29-year-old American has developed a nasty habit in recent times of getting himself into contention and then falling away. But he managed to reverse that trend. He even survived a trip to the water on the back nine, and birdies at the 15th and 17th took him to nine under for the tournament. It all added up to a quite remarkable round of 65.
Through it all, Reed was unbowed. He dropped a shot at the par-three 12th, but an eagle at the 13th took him to 13 under par, by which point he was four in front.
McIlroy salvaged a remarkable par at the 13th. He put his approach into the azaleas, hacked it out, chipped to three feet and holed the putt. A par followed at the 14th and then came another mistake, when he hooked his drive at the 15th and was unable to go for the par five in two. But he struck his approach to 15 feet and holed the putt for a birdie to cut Reed's lead to three.
The Northern Irishman has suffered horribly on the greens in recent times but a conversation with Brad Faxon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational changed all that and he holed a testing par putt on the 16th to keep the momentum going. No sooner had the ball disappeared into the cup than Reed brought the house down by chipping in for an eagle at the 15th to lead by five. However, he gave one shot back on the 16th.
Up ahead, McIlroy salvaged a scarcely-credible par at the 17th after driving into the trees. The lead was four. McIlroy found the 18th green in two, 25 feet from the hole. He couldn't, could he? Of course he could. It all added up to another 65.
Reed was in trouble at the 17th after clearing the green with his approach but yet again his putter saved him, and off he went to the 18th with a three-shot lead. He found the right-hand side of the fairway and then struck yet another majestic iron shot to about 10 feet but he missed the putt.
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