It was a gloomy, soggy Saturday afternoon at the Masters, rain splattering giant umbrellas, splashing rows of beer cups, soaking thousands of pairs of colorful shorts.
It was nasty. It was ugly. It was absolutely perfect for the mud-slinging showdown it created.
Playing out of the third-round muck and into Sunday’s final pairing were two rivals whose fight over the green jacket is liable to tear it to shreds.
It will be Patrick Reed against Rory McIlroy in a rematch of 2016 Ryder Cup chaos.
Four days of the Masters have been whittled down to two men shouldering a chip and holding a grudge.
Said Reed: “It’s going to be electrifying.’’
Said McIlroy: “I think we’ll obviously still be feeling it.’’
Amid late-afternoon rain showers and under rolling dark clouds Saturday, Reed and McIlroy fought their way to the top the Augusta National leaderboard less than two years after pounding on each other at Hazeltine National Golf Club, and remember that?
It was one of the greatest match play duels in golf history. Reed and McIlroy careened across greens like professional wrestlers with putters, screaming and fist-pumping and posing in an emotional round that ended in a Reed victory that led the U.S. to an eventual team triumph.
Reed should be favored to win Sunday’s rematch as he leads McIlroy by three strokes after shooting a five-under 67 Saturday to finish the third round at 14 under. But on this same day, McIlroy shot a seven-under 65 and seems to have just as much momentum.
“Yeah, honestly, I feel like Patrick has got a three-shot lead, I feel like all the pressure is on him,’’ said McIlroy. “He’s got to go out and protect that, and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big-time players. He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight.’’
Oh yeah? Well, Reed thinks McIlroy needs to deal with it.
“I am leading … but at the same time, he’s trying to go for a career Grand Slam … you can put it either way,’’ Reed said.
Yeah, McIlroy countered, at least he’s won a major, four of them to be exact.
“Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for something else,’’ McIlroy said.
Reed was like, pressure? What pressure?
“I mean, I woke up this morning, felt fine,’’ he said. “Didn’t feel any pressure. Just came out and tried to play some golf. And I believe that’s how it’s going to be tomorrow.’’
Don’t buy it. The heat on both guys will be as huge as the gallery that will follow only them. The stakes for both are far greater than just a blazer and a trophy.
Reed, 27, is trying to win his first major championship since turning pro seven years ago. He’s also trying to win over golf fans who apparently dislike him so much, he likely will receive the fewest cheers Sunday even though he attended nearby Augusta State University while McIlroy grew up 4,000 miles away in Northern Ireland.
Fans reportedly don’t like Reed because they think he’s too brash without backing it up. They also don’t like him because his past is littered with allegations of cheating and theft. When he was asked about the reason for the alleged haters Saturday, he shrugged.
“I don’t know, why don’t you ask them?’’ he said. “I mean, I have no idea, and honestly 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. I’m out there to do my job, and that’s to play golf.’’
McIlroy, 28, has become one of golf’s most beloved characters, but he is carrying his own weight. McIlroy is one Masters victory from becoming the sixth player to win a career Grand Slam. He’s also battling the ghosts of 2011 here, when he threw away a four-shot lead in the final round to shoot an 80 and finish in a tie for 15th.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance, to be honest,’’ he said. “I’ve always said … 2011 was a huge turning point in my career. It was the day I realized I wasn’t ready to win major championships, and I needed to reflect on that and realize what I needed to do different.’’
He paused. “But now I am ready.’’
They both looked ready Saturday, trading roar for roar as they followed each other around the wet course, the echoes growing with each sweeping cheer.
McIlroy chipped in from off the green for an eagle on the eighth hole, pumping his fist in delight, and you could hear the screaming in front of the far-away clubhouse.
“Some days it’s with you, and some days it’s against you, and today it was with me,’’ McIlroy said.
After that chip pulled McIlroy into a first-place tie, Reed rolled off two eagles on the back nine, one with a putt, one with a chip, and both with grimacing growls.
“If I feel like I’m playing really well, I almost feel like I can kick it into another gear and go even deeper,’’ Reed said.
McIlroy somehow found his ball in the azaleas on No. 13, and managed to knock it out and save par, and that roar could be heard all the way around Amen Corner.
“I was in a sea of pink, I was lucky just to see the ball,’’ he said, then helpfully offered a gardening lesson. ‘’Azaleas are actually pretty thin down below. They look pretty thick on top, but down below they are actually not too bad.’’
But Reed finished with three consecutive pars and walked off the course with a wry smile. Both he and McIlroy, it seems, are ready for the storm that awaits.
Said Reed: “It’s going to be a lot of fun.’’
Said McIlroy: “It’s going to be good fun.’’
Finally, they agree on something.