Showdown: Reed and McIlroy all set for thrilling Sunday shootout at Augusta
Russell Henley should finish strongly
Sky Sports Golf, 6pm Sunday
Story so far
Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy contested one of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in the history of the competition – an epic duel at Hazeltine in 2016 – and today the two rivals go into battle for Masters glory.
In the Ryder Cup, the pair started level on the first tee, Reed eventually winning one-up on the 18th green to edge the USA closer to victory. This time, Reed carries a three-shot advantage to the opening hole, with McIlroy playing the role of hunter at Augusta National.
Reed has played the par-fives magnificently this week and he eagled both the 13th and the 15th holes in round three to stretch clear at the top of the leaderboard. The pre-tournament 50-1 chance is 5-4 favourite with 18 holes to play.
McIlroy, though, is alone in second place and has his eyes set on a career Grand Slam of Majors. The Northern Irishman enjoyed plenty of luck in round three, compiling a 65 which gives him a chance of joining the most elite club in golf.
He hit the lip of the bunker with his approach to the fifth, but his ball still bounded on to the green, then he overhit his approach to the eighth before it smacked the middle of the flagstick and hit the bottom of the cup for eagle. A sliced drive at the 18th looked in trouble, but it clattered into a tree and back into the fairway, from where he made birdie. McIlroy is 7-4 to take advantage of the good fortune by going on to land the Green Jacket. Only five players in history have won all four Majors.
Rickie Fowler is alone in third spot, a further two shots behind, with Jon Rahm in fourth. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are tied for ninth place, nine shots off the pace.
-14 Patrick Reed
-11 Rory McIlroy
-9 Rickie Fowler
-8 Jon Rahm
-7 Henrik Stenson
-6 Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson, Marc Leishman
-5 Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth
-4 Dustin Johnson
-3 Justin Rose
-1 Jason Day
Par Hideki Matsuyama
+4 Tiger Woods
+7 Phil Mickelson
5-4 P Reed, 7-4 R McIlroy, 17-2 R Fowler, 16 J Rahm, 35 H Stenson, 55 B Watson, 66 T Fleetwood, 90 J Spieth, 100 J Thomas, 125 M Leishman, 200 D Johnson, 500 bar
The key moment in this tournament may turn out to be the approach of Reed to the par-five 15th hole in round three. It was a ludicrously brave shot which proved the American has the guts and the game to become Masters champion.
From almost 270 yards out, with drizzle falling, Reed slugged a three-wood which just scraped over the water hazard guarding the front of the green. He had no margin for error on the shot, gave it everything he had, then chipped in for eagle.
The 15th hole showed that Reed was determined to stay on the front foot. He knew it was too early to defend his lead. And that will probably remain the case long into the final round, with Rory McIlroy breathing down his neck.
McIlroy relished the softer conditions at Augusta in round three and moved menacingly to within striking distance of the top of the board. The Masters could easily turn into a shootout between Reed and Rory.
Obviously this is different to their Ryder Cup duel – strokeplay rules rather than matchplay – but there will a matchplay feel for Reed. He will be looking to match McIlroy's score on the early holes, trying to keep that three-shot buffer for as long as possible. McIlroy is capable of destroying a three-shot gap on the 13th and 15th holes alone, so Reed knows he must start strongly. The leader needs to stay well in front of his playing partner, at least to the 13th tee.
Punters who have backed either Reed or McIlroy ante-post are in great shape. Both men are still available at odds-against, allowing easy fiddling of positions. Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm enjoyed themselves on Saturday, but Fowler is notoriously vulnerable on Major Sundays, while Rahm has wobbled a lot on weekends of late and has probably given himself too much to do.
Racing Post Sport followers are on Reed at 50-1, and more cautious readers may choose to have a decent bet on McIlroy at 7-4 as some insurance. McIlroy is playing under immense pressure, chasing the ultimate prize, but he seems to have parked the tension of Grand Slam aspirations to the back of his mind. The little wizard obviously has every chance of overcoming his three-shot deficit and slipping into an overdue Green Jacket.
Reed is unlikely to budge without an enormous scrap, though, and punters who backed McIlroy at around the 11-1 mark before the off, should take some 5-4 Reed.
Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards Russell Henley for the 5.30pm contest against Satoshi Kodaira. Sunshine and hardly any breeze is the forecast for the final day, so anyone carrying a hot putter should fancy their chances of going low. Henley, one of the best in the business with the flat-stick, has played Augusta well over the last two years and can leave the Japanese raider in his wake.
Justin Thomas, who has played some fantastic tee-to-green golf this week, is tempting at odds-against to beat Jordan Spieth, but opposing Spieth at Augusta is not a tactic with much historical success.
4pts 8-11 BoyleSports, Coral, Ladbrokes