AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy had hit the drive of the day on 13, a towering 329-yard colossus that went over the famed dogleg turn here and landed safely in the fairway, nowhere near those trees and pines straw that have dashed generations of Masters dreams.
Rory was staring at 191 to the pin. He was 9-under par in a horse race of a third round here. An eagle was there for the taking. A birdie a consolation prize. One hole behind him, on 12, the leader, Patrick Reed had bogeyed to drop to 11-under, the groans from the fans telling the story.
Scores were dropping. Rain was pouring. The moment wasn’t lost on anyone, certainly not Rory.
McIlroy, 28, is a four-time major champion seeking a career grand slam here this week. Reed is 27 with more talent and attitude than actual results. Maybe this was the moment when McIlroy’s chase would rattle the leader, when the stakes and pressure would overwhelm Reed. Add a little more and who knows.
Then Rory hooked the thing into the azaleas, a shot as bad as the drive was great. “A sea of pink,” Rory said. “I was lucky just to see the ball.” He scrambled to save par.
Reed cranked it 292 yards into the fairway. He belted it 215 onto the green. He drained a 14-foot putt for eagle.
He was back at 13-under and Rory was still chasing, just like everyone else.
“To bounce back with an eagle … it’s just kind of one of those things,” Reed said. “I was able to get into that mode and keep going.”
Masters 2018: Rory McIlroy | 13th Hole, Round 3 pic.twitter.com/b2GooeHf9H
— Masters Highlights (@MastersMoments) April 7, 2018
Masters 2018: Patrick Reed | 13th Hole, Round 3 pic.twitter.com/tsd9MjeYRf
— Masters Highlights (@MastersMoments) April 7, 2018
All day the field of the Masters kept coming for Patrick Reed, kept trying to take advantage of wet conditions and soft greens. And all day Reed kept going and going. He wound up 14-under, just four shots off the 72-hole record here of 18 under (held by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth). Behind him is a leaderboard wondering what, if anything, it might take.
McIlroy, for his part, carded five birdies, one eagle and no bogeys to record a 65. He still trails by three strokes.
“I wish I was a little closer,” McIlroy said.
After the round McIlroy was expressing his confidence in how he’d perform on Sunday while trying to ratchet up the nerves on Reed.
“I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said. “He’s got to go out and protect that [lead], and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are big-time players . He’s got to deal with and sleep on tonight. … I feel like I can go out there and play like I’ve got nothing to lose.
“… Patrick is going for his first [major] and I’m going for something else … I’ve got a lot of experience in these positions …”
In the past, this may have worked. It may tomorrow, too. It also may not. Reed, 27, hails from Texas but played collegiately down the road here at Augusta University, which he led to the 2010 and 2011 NCAA titles. His talent has never been in doubt. His ability to harness it has been. He’s played supremely confident and long ago declared himself a top-five player in the world, yet he’s ranked 24th, owns just five PGA Tour victories and has just one top-10 finish in a major (2017 PGA Championship).
Then again, he doesn’t look, and isn’t playing, like he cares much about anything … Rory, the stakes, the fans.
He spent most of Saturday watching the scoreboard, seeing all the guys making a run at him and then swatting them away. On the front nine when McIlroy tied him briefly at 9-under, he quickly threw down three straight birdies. It looked like it was all part of the fun, not some monumental challenge he needed to psychologically avoid.
“I’m a guy that looks at leaderboards all the time, no matter what,” Reed said. “I’ve always looked at leaderboards, and with having that rain and softening up the greens and slowing down the greens just a bit, you knew guys were going to make a charge. Because I was in the last tee time, I had the last holes to play that those guys were birdieing. I knew that I still had opportunities coming up.”
He says Sunday should be no different.
“I am leading,” Reed said when asked if he had all the pressure. “At the same time, he’s trying to go for the career Grand Slam. You can put it either way. I mean, honestly, I woke up this morning [after leading], felt fine. Didn’t feel any pressure. Just came out and tried to play some golf.”
Reed may have some local ties but he isn’t always a fan favorite. His brashness has rubbed some the wrong way. His failures have been cheered. He understands that, too. He doesn’t care about it either.
“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. “I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf.”
This week he’s done it as well as anyone ever has. He has a chance to become the first player in Masters history to record four consecutive rounds in the 60s. The all-time low score is in reach. He’s currently 13-under on the par fives. He has 29 holes with one or fewer putts through 54 holes.
Rory may have the track record of success. A slew of others may be right behind him looking to make a Sunday charge – including top-10 players Rickie Fowler (9-under) and John Rahm (8-under), plus major champions such as Spieth, Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas soon after.
Reed just shrugs. He’s always believed he should be here and would be here and deserves to be here. A Saturday night lead at the Masters, here in his old college town, is something he covets getting to sleep on.
“Wake up and play golf,” Reed said. “Whatever happens, happens.”
Let the chase continue.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Watch: PhilMickelson whiffed
• ShoheiOhtani homers in third straight game
• LeBronJames’ missed free throw squashed Cleveland’s 30-point comeback bid
• Cardinals pitcher may have overtaken AroldisChapman as MLB’s hardest thrower