Reed takes three-shot lead over McIlroy into Masters final round

Patrick Reed opened and closed the front nine with runs of three consecutive birdies then ran off another birdie treble on the back nine in shooting 6-under par 66 to stand on 9-under 135 after 36 holes at the 2018 Masters Tournament

Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Patrick Reed fired two eagles on a rain-softened Augusta National course to seize a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy after the third round of the Masters on Saturday.

Reed’s 5-under par 67 for a 14-under total of 202 through 54 holes was his third straight round in the 60s and more than enough to keep him atop the leaderboard in search of his first major title, even as McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm all posted 7-under par 65s.

McIlroy, who can complete a career Grand Slam with a first Masters win, was alone in second on 205 with Fowler third on 207 and world number three Rahm on 208 after a day when threatened thunderstorms failed to materialize.

Instead, intermittent showers only served to make Augusta’s treacherous greens a little more benign.

“I was able to adapt (to the changed conditions) at about the fourth hole and from that point on, things just seemed to go the way I’d been playing,” Reed said.

Famed for his unflinching play on US Ryder Cup match play teams, Reed didn’t blink as McIlroy made an early move, briefly pulling level atop the leaderboard.

Instead, the 27-year-old American responded with eagles at the 13th and 15th holes, swelling his lead to as many as five strokes.

“I think the biggest thing is just going out and playing golf, trying not to let the moment overwhelm me,” said Reed, whose four birdies included three in a row at the eighth, ninth and 10th.

He curled in a 14-footer eagle putt at the 13th, chipped in for eagle at 15 and was looking forward to tackling old Ryder Cup foe McIlroy in the final group on Sunday.

“Hopefully we can get some fireworks out there and have a fun Sunday,” Reed said.

“All the pressure’s on him,” said McIlroy, who was “hoping to come in and spoil the party.”

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, who started the day five shots off Reed’s halfway lead, started narrowing the gap with back-to-back birdies at the third and fourth.

McIlroy’s momentum built with an unlikely par at the fifth, where his second shot from a fairway bunker caught the lip but kept travelling.

He gave himself a tap-in birdie at the par-3 sixth and then used a sand wedge to pitch in for eagle at the eighth.

A run of six straight pars included a save at the 13th, where he waded into the azalea bushes to hit his third shot.

With Reed threatening to run away with it, McIlroy birdied 15, and, after a lucky carom off a tree at 18, drained a 17-foot birdie putt to cap his round.

– Rory rides his luck –

“A great day,” McIlroy said. “I’m closer to the lead than I was starting off the day, which is a bonus, especially when you see Patrick goes out and shoots 67 and obviously played very well.

“I rode my luck a little bit out there. You know, the chip-in on the eighth hole, finding my ball in the azaleas on 13.

“Then hitting the tree on 18 and coming back in the fairway and making a birdie from that — I rode my luck a little bit out there today. Hopefully I don’t have to rely on it too much tomorrow.”

Fowler, also seeking a first major title, kick-started his round with an eagle at the par-5 second and added five more birdies in a bogey-free effort.

Spain’s Rahm, 23, also played without a bogey and was one stroke in front of former British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who carded a 2-under 70 for 209.

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson posted a four-under 68 to share sixth on 210 with England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Australian Marc Leishman.

Fleetwood’s six-under 66 included five straight birdies on the back nine while Leishman, who entered the day trailing Reed by two, had just one bogey in his 1-over 73.

– Frustration for Woods –

Four-time Masters winner Tiger Woods was left spinning his wheels on Moving Day.

The 14-time major champion, who insisted as he set out to close a 13-shot deficit on Saturday that he was looking for a “special weekend”, opened with back-to-back bogeys on the way to a 72.

Woods, back at Augusta for the first time in three years, hit 4-of-14 fairways but said his real problem continued to be poor iron play.

“It has been scratchy this week. I’m not getting it done. My swing is just off with my irons,” said Woods, who admitted he now had his sights set just on trying to get to even par for the tournament on Sunday.