News & Opinion

Ryder-like Masters duel pits Reed vs. McIlroy

AUGUSTA, Ga. – You were expecting a great Masters Tournament this weekend. How about a great Ryder Cup rematch instead?

Enter Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy 2.0. It’s the sequel we didn’t know we were waiting for, but now that we’ve got it, oh, yeah. 

This is no Ryder Cup; this is the Masters. You’re right. There is no comparison. The Ryder Cup is match play. This is stroke play, and there are other golfers in the mix. 

Reed, a match-play assassin, takes a three-shot lead over McIlroy into the final round (scores). Rickie Fowler is five back, Jon Rahm is six behind, and Henrik Stenson trails by seven. Anyone else on the board needs divine intervention (tee times).

Speaking of intervention, this final pairing of Reed and McIlroy may need one, based on their last meeting. “Any time I feel like I can go one-on-one against somebody,” Reed said at Hazeltine, “it’s something I love to do.”

You may recall the fireworks from two years ago. The European team trailed and desperately needed to charge out of the gate in singles to win. So, Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, the team’s biggest gun, was sent out first. American captain Davis Love III had just the firebrand to meet him: Reed, the hard-edged Texan. It went down as one of the great singles matches in Ryder Cup history, plus one of the most hard-fought and borderline contentious. The duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle on the front nine.

The match was tied when McIlroy sent a 50-foot putt careening into the cup at the eighth hole and screamed, “F---ing, c’mon! I can’t hear you!” He looked as if he might pop a vein, he was so animated.

Reed responded by burying his 25-foot putt and then wagging a scolding finger at McIlroy to indicate, Not so fast, man. Some described it as playful, but it was anything but. Reed, meanwhile, had uttered his own indecipherable scream and pumped his fists while the partisan Minnesota fans drowned him out. 

McIlroy started to walk to the next tee but turned around to acknowledge Reed’s brilliant play and the two bumped knuckles, a bit of sportsmanship in a match that had gotten maybe a little too white hot.

“That was the turning point of the match,” Reed said later. Reed won the point, 1 up, and the U.S. rolled to its first Ryder Cup victory since 2008.

Neither player is buying into this Ryder Cup redux heading into today’s finale, but you can bet that some of the public will. It will take only one birdie putt from Reed in the final round to fire up chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Won’t it?

“It’s not Europe versus America,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully, it’s not such a partisan crowd. Patrick went to Augusta State. He’s not a local, but he played college golf here, and I’m sure he’ll have a lot of support. There are people out there wishing me well, so it won’t be quite as intense as that Ryder Cup match. I think we’ll obviously still be feeling it.

“It’s the last round of a major championship. Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for …,” McIlroy said, pausing briefly. “Something else,” he continued, sparking laughter. “It’s going to be good fun.”

That “something else” would be the career Grand Slam. McIlroy, 28, a four-time major champion, already has captured the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA. He needs a Masters to complete the collection.

Reed, 27, is still looking for his inaugural major title to show that he’s the top-5 player in the world he thinks he is but has yet to prove. 

It won’t be match play today, but the match already has begun. McIlroy said all of the pressure is on Reed because he has a three-shot lead to protect. Asked about McIlroy’s assessment of the pressure, Reed smiled thinly. “I am leading,” he said. “I guess so. But at the same time, he’s going for the career Grand Slam. You can put it either way.”

The match might have started Saturday afternoon, actually. McIlroy eagled the eighth hole to tie Reed, who was playing one group behind, for the lead. Then Reed answered with three birdies in a row starting at the eighth. They were followed by classic, rolling-through-the-pines roars that were unmistakable.

At the par-5 13th, where McIlroy got up and down from the azaleas on the hillside behind the green – “All I saw was a sea of pink,” McIlroy conceded – Reed rifled a perfectly judged 4-iron shot from a tough lie to 12 feet and holed a sharp-breaking eagle putt. At the par-5 15th, Reed chipped in from just off the right front of the green for another eagle. Another thunderous roar followed, and it sounded a lot like one of those Minnesota roars.

McIlroy, who had birdied the 15th, responded with a clutch and fortunate birdie at the 18th hole, where his drive hit a tree and caromed back into the fairway. When he buried the birdie putt, McIlroy reacted with an energetic air punch. Game on.

Their real opponent today will be Augusta National Golf Club in all of its risk-and-reward glory. That’s what they want you to believe, and yes, it’s true.

“It’s definitely not a two-horse race at this point,” McIlroy said. “There are more players in this golf tournament than just Patrick Reed and I.”

That, too, is true. Reed has had only one brush with major-championship final-round pressure. He was in the mix last August when Justin Thomas captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. Reed finished second after a 72nd-hole bogey.

Reed said he figured out that he’s putting too much pressure on himself at majors, so this week, he said, “I’m just playin’ golf.” With nine birdies Friday and four birdies and two eagles Saturday, it’s apparently working.

Today, there will be more roars and more Rors.

It won’t be like a Ryder Cup, though, Reed assured. “It will be calmer,” Reed said, grinning. “There’s a lot of stuff you can do at a Ryder Cup that you can’t do at Augusta National.”

So true. Dilly dilly.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle