Everyone got hot at Augusta National today, so it seemed. But Marc Leishman was ice cold, especially on the greens, and as a result, Australia’s hopes of winning the Masters have all but evaporated.
Patrick Reed has a firm grip on the Masters and an eye on the green jacket after another exhilarating round that included two eagles at the famous par-fives on the back nine. Having started in the lead, he shot 67, narrowly missing a putt for 66 at the last.
But Rory McIlroy’s equally-thrilling 65, franked by a five-metre birdie and a fist pump at the 18th, puts the Northern Irishman into the last group with Reed just three shots back. They will reprise their famous 2016 Ryder Cup singles match at Hazeltine tomorrow, a match that Reed won.
The leaderboard is star-studded after big moves from Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm (both 65) and Tommy Fleetwood (66). But it looks to be between that pair of Ryder Cuppers, Reed (14-under) and McIlroy (11-under), the latter chasing a win to complete the career Grand Slam.
McIlroy was already jousting at the end of the day, saying that his failure in 2011 at Augusta, when he led until a disaster at the 10th tee on the final day, would drive him tomorrow. “Hopefully all that I did learn seven years ago I can put into practice tomorrow, so I’m really excited to go out there tomorrow, show everyone what I’ve got, show Patrick Reed what I’ve got,’’ he said. “All the pressure is on him tomorrow. He went to Augusta State (University), he’s got a lot of support here. I’m hoping to come in and spoil the party.’’
Of course, we all have to be mindful of the Augusta effect; there have been many spectacular fade-outs in the past, most recently Jordan Spieth leading by five shots on the final day in 2016 and conspiring to lose. McIlroy himself had his moment of madness in 2011, and he has been all this time since chasing the last of the majors that are not in his kitbag.
As for Leishman, who began two shots back from Reed and in the last group, he found himself eight back and out of contention by the end of a day when he made not a single birdie and just one bogey at the par-four seventh where he failed to get up-and-down from the front trap. The Aussie watched a series of putts that burned the hole or stopped in the jaws; in fact, his ball-striking was mostly solid in his one-over par 73 that left him tied-sixth with Bubba Watson.
"I'm a long way back,'' he said. "But with a really low round tomorrow, you never know what might happen.''
The other Aussies all played well but are out of the running. Queenslander Cameron Smith made a little run highlighted by a near ace at the par-three 16th hole, and when he tapped in the putt for birdie he was five-under overall and in the top 10 in the tournament.
But even Smith had his frustrations; poor drives at the 17th and 18th immediately cost him shots, and he signed for a two-under par 70. Still, just outside the top 10 this has been an outstanding week for the 24-year-old from Brisbane.
“Pretty frustrating,’’ he said. “I feel as though I played really solid golf for 16 holes there, then the driver just let me down on the last two. I got myself into positions you really can’t get away with around here.’’
Smith said he would not change his approach tomorrow. “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. If I play the way I did today, keep taking those opportunities, I’m sure I’ll be right up there.’’
Jason Day had a nice round today, a 69 that put him into the top 15. His only mistake for the day came at the par-four 10th where he tugged his approach left, where he said later a “mud ball’’ had hurt him. But Day added that his inability to get the ball to the hole on the slightly slower greens was a factor, too. “Five (putts) in the heart is a few too many, to be honest,’’ he said.
Adam Scott (70 today) is two-over overall.
Reed was brilliant, his day highlighted by a chip-in for eagle at the par-five 15th that brought the biggest roar of the day, and a bombed birdie up the hill at the ninth. He also eagled the 13th after a beautiful five-iron shot in to three metres. At that point, he led the tournament by five shots, a lead that was trimmed late by McIlroy and by his own single error – a three-putt from down low at the 16th green for bogey.
He has played three rounds in the 60s this week having never shot under 70 in his previous Masters appearances. As he has shown in the Ryder Cup, he has a great sense of timing. “To be able to play against Rory, having him side-by-side with me is going to be a lot of fun,’’ he said.