The 2018 Masters leaderboard after Saturday’s third round has everything that a golf fan would want from a major, including a final pairing for Saturday that sets up a dream rivalry. While we spent much of the week fantasizing about some combination of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and one of the younger stars of the sport facing off in the final round, the golf Gods had a better idea.
The epic Patrick Reed vs. Rory McIlroy match from the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine cemented Reed’s place in United States golf lore, and his 6-1-2 record in Ryder Cup play is one of the best ever for a player with multiple appearances.
You think Rory would like some Ryder Cup revenge in the form of chasing down and beating Reed at Augusta on Sunday, winning The Masters for the first time and becoming the sixth player to ever complete the career Grand Slam? I don’t know if anyone considered the Rory-Reed pairing at the beginning of the week, but it’s the perfect conclusion to a start-studded week at Augusta.
Here’s how the top of the leaderboard looks heading into Sunday’s final round:
1. Patrick Reed (-14): That latest chapter in Reed’s fascinating, complicated and arguably impressive early career is going to unfold on Sunday afternoon, and whatever happens, it will be the stuff that follows a golfer for decades. There’s an argument to be made that having McIlroy and a match-play environment in the final group will help keep Reed focused, distracting him from the gravity of the moment with the intense competition that he craves. He’s either going to cave under the pressure or back up the brash talk we’ve heard from the 27-year-old Texan the moment he started winning on the PGA Tour. I don’t know which way this is going to go, but I can’t wait to watch it all unfold.
2. Rory McIlroy (-11): There was a saying we throw around on the First Cut Podcast that “if Rory is even an average putter, he’s a threat to win on any course.” McIlroy was dialed in on the greens on Saturday, rolling in birdies on the first nine and dropping clutch par putts on the second nine to remain in contention as Reed pushed the lead further into red numbers. He’ll have to score to win and he’ll have to putt well to score, but McIlroy’s confidence is surging and the birdie putt on 18 should tell you everything you need to know.
3. Rickie Fowler (-9): An eagle on No. 2 alerted Augusta National to Rickie’s arrival as one of the primary challengers for Reed’s pursuit of a green jacket. Searching his own first major title, Fowler added five birdies to the card and rode a par train the rest of the way for a bogey-free 65.
4. Jon Rahm (-8): Thursday’s 75 wasn’t a good representation of Rahm’s play, and by his own admission, if not for a few balls in the water, it would have been closer to reaching the scores in the 60s he put up on Friday and Saturday. Rahm’s 65 tied Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy for the best round of the day, and it was his first-ever bogey-free round in a major. Not bad for the 23-year-old currently ranked No. 3 in the world.
5. Henrik Stenson (-7): Paired with McIlroy during his 65, Stenson looked human. But take a step back and realize that his 70 was good enough to keep him in the top five, even if pursuit of a win is going to be tougher as he currently sits seven strokes back.
T6. Tommy Fleetwood (-6): After a four-birdie, four-bogey, even-par 72 on Thursday followed by a three-birdie, three-bogey even-par 72 on Friday, Fleetwood caught fire coming down the second nine. Fleetwood ran off five straight birdies and moved all the way to 7-under before a bogey on the 18th left him with a 66 on the day. He was nearly flawless hitting into greens (16-of-18 greens in regulation) all afternoon and then finally the birdie putts started to fall at the end of the round.
T6. Bubba Watson (-6): On a day when everyone was going low — and Bubba himself had his lowest score of the tournament so far — there was even more out there for Watson. A trio of bogeys around the turn at 8, 9 and 11 offset some of the great play in a seven-birdie day for the two-time Masters champ.
T6. Marc Leishman (-6): The birdies weren’t there for Leishman on Saturday. It’s a disappointment for sure after playing so well through two days of competition, but a steady round of pars with one bogey resulted in a slow slide back to the pack after establishing some separation on Friday.
T9. Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth (-5): Spieth has been able to recover on the second nine with birdies on the two par-5s (13 and 15) in all three rounds, but first nine bogeys have added up and the 2015 champion finds himself needing a record round and some help if he’s going to put on the green jacket again on Sunday. Justin Thomas had far fewer mistakes during his Saturday round of 70, but on a day when everyone else was going low, anything not in the 60s seems disappointing.