April 8, 2018 7:00 pm
AUGUSTA (UNITED STATES) (AFP) –
Rory McIlroy took aim at a career Grand Slam while leader Patrick Reed eyed course records and a first major title as they teed off in Sunday’s final pairing at the 82nd Masters.
An emotional drama with golf history at stake was set to unfold in cool conditions at Augusta National, with Reed atop the leaderboard at 14-under 202 after 54 holes and playing partner McIlroy three strokes adrift.
“We’re both trying to do something pretty special,” McIlroy said.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy can capture his fifth major title and his first green jacket to become only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam, a win in each of the four major championships.
“I want to keep the pressure on him,” McIlroy said. “If I can get off to a good solid start, that will be enough to keep me hanging in there.
“If I can stay within two or three going to the back nine, that’s when things can happen out there.”
Reed, who hadn’t cracked 70 at the Masters until this week, could become the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a Masters and could break the 72-hole tournament record of 18-under 270 shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
“I almost feel like I can kick it into another gear and go even deeper,” Reed said. “If I hit that one shot, I can pump myself up and try to get going and try to flip that switch.”
The last 21 Masters winners all started the last round within four strokes of the lead, so chances are Reed and McIlroy will have a one-on-one duel for the green jacket.
The Masters champion also receives $1.98 million from an $11 million purse while the runner-up takes $1.18 million.
Reed and McIlroy met in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, when the US firebrand edged Europe’s McIlroy 1 up in an epic clash.
“The biggest thing I was able to pull from it is I was head-to-head with Rory and able to put together a really good round,” Reed said. “When he tried to make a counter I was able to always stay ahead and keep going.”
McIlroy will draw inspiration from memories of a 2011 final-round Masters meltdown, when he fired an 80 to squander a potential wire-to-wire win the last time he was in the final duo.
“To finally get the opportunity again to see if I can put all those wrongs right is something I’m looking forward to,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy took motivation from that loss to win his next major start at the 2011 US Open and added major titles at the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championship and the 2014 British Open.
Eight of the past nine major winners were first-time major winners and Reed, a 2017 PGA Championship runner-up, isn’t the only golfer who could continue that run.
American Rickie Fowler was third, five strokes adrift on 207, with Spaniard Jon Rahm another shot back as both chase their first major crown.
– Fight for World No. 1 –
Jack Burke owns the record Masters last-round comeback to win at eight strokes, meaning three-time major winner Spieth and 2017 PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas needed a record rally from 9-down. Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, the 2016 US Open winner, faced an even tougher challenge at 10 back.
Thomas and Johnson are also fighting for the world number one ranking, which Thomas would take by winning and could seize even with a top-4 finish.
Rahm and Spieth also could overtake them both for number one by winning.
And there were good rounds on offer at Augusta National.
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson carded a 67 to finish on 2-over 290 and 2012 US Open winner Webb Simpson made back-to-back eagles at the seventh and par-5 eighth playing his first 10 holes in 6-under.
– Tiger roaring late –
Woods, playing his first major event since 2015 in a comeback from nagging back pain and spinal fusion surgery, began 18 strokes behind Reed and hoping for his first sub-par round of the week.
The 14-time major champion had three birdies and three bogeys on the front nine, but birdied the par-5 13th and sank a 29-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th to stand 3-under Sunday, 1-over overall.
Woods, a four-time Masters champion who last won a green jacket in 2005 and last won a major at the 2008 US Open, was disappointed and frustrated by a week of struggles after top-5 finishes in two tuneup events.
by Jim SLATER
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