AUGUSTA, Ga. — Golf is so much about composure, and whoever wins the Masters on Sunday evening will have calmed his head and his heart at a time when the mortals among us would have knees of gelatin and spines of sawdust. But watch the young men who will make up the final pairing, the two best bets to win this tournament. Each conveys his mood with his strut and his stride. Each pounded the air, repeatedly, with his right fist, all but blows to the other’s gut. And each expects to beat the other in what might be a mini-match play of a final round.

There are other worthy characters here, but to win, they will have to receive help from Patrick Reed, who leads the tournament at 14 under par, and Rory McIlroy, who trails him by three. Nothing about the way that pair peacocked their way around Augusta National Golf Club during Saturday’s third round indicated they have any intention of allowing those behind them in on their personal tournament.

Reed and McIlroy, already with a memorable mano a mano duel in their past, telegraphed in word and deed that they are ready for each other. When they were done on Saturday, they began Sunday’s match.

“I feel like all the pressure is on him,” McIlroy said. “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.”

Unstated, but implied: I dealt with this once, Patrick. You haven’t. See how it feels.

Reed’s counter: Whatever.

“I am leading,” he said. “I guess so. But at the same time, he’s trying to go for the career Grand Slam. So you can put it either way.”

Serve returned.

One thing about which they agreed, even if the evidence suggested otherwise: The final round, they argued, won’t be a two-man race. So for the record, the accomplished players in position to make a run: Rickie Fowler, the popular, Puma-wearing American with the star-crossed record at majors, whose bogey-free 65 left him five back at 9 under; Jon Rahm, the feisty Spaniard who matched Fowler’s spotless 65 to get to 8 under; and Henrik Stenson, the former British Open champion from Sweden whose second straight steady 70 left him at 7 under.

“It’s definitely well within striking distance, especially at this place,” Fowler said. “Anything can happen.”

So much of it already happened Saturday. When the third round began, Reed — who had scarcely been in this position at a major, despite his tremendous potential — led Australia’s Marc Leishman. “Honestly, I woke up this morning, felt fine, didn’t feel any pressure,” he said.

It’s his way off the course, where he distills just about any assessment to some version of, “Just got to go and play golf.”

That belies how he reacts to shots and circumstances when he’s playing. Weekend roars at Augusta are legendary, part of the experience of attending the Masters. Come enough times, and they’re identifiable by their volume, their enthusiasm, their endurance and their geography.

A birdie at 2 doesn’t sound like an eagle at 13.

They do, too, serve as road signs for players. The first significant one of Saturday, then, came when McIlroy chipped in for eagle at the par-5 eighth. Reed, playing in the group behind, couldn’t see McIlroy’s emphatic fist pump, nor the puffed-out chest the Northern Irishman carried to the ninth tee. But he could hear the crowd, more college football than golf in that moment. And he could see the massive scoreboards, which now showed the pair tied for the lead at 9 under.

“Any time you hear a bunch of roars, you’re going to get excited,” Reed said, “especially if you feel like you’re playing some good golf.”
Reed clearly feels that way. He arrived at Augusta National this week having never broken 70 in his four Masters, which featured two missed cuts. But he opened this event with rounds of 69 and 66, building confidence with each step. So his response to McIlroy’s push was this: birdie at 8, birdie at 9, birdie at 10.

“I’m not out there to play Rory,” he said. And yet he was responding directly to him.

Each, then, had his moments — even as Reed tried to run away. McIlroy plodded through the middle of his round, and when the rain — which wasn’t much more than a drizzle, if that, for most of the day — intensified as he reached 13, he made an error, dumping his second shot at the par 5 into the azaleas to the left of the green. Should he win this Masters, he’ll think about what happened next as a key: finding his ball when it might have been lost, punching it out when it might have stuck among the flowers, saving par when he might have given strokes back.

“I rode my luck a little bit out there,” McIlroy said. But he used that luck as momentum, and that momentum appeared in his cocksure stride. Between holes, fans reached over the ropes to exchange high-fives. McIlroy not only obliged, but seemed to seek out the support, energized.

Reed’s energy came from his own play, his own resilience in a position in which he has not spent much time. After a bogey at 12, he obliterated a 4-iron for his second shot at the 13th, setting up eagle. By the time he reached 15, McIlroy had made his birdie and moved on.

So Reed chipped in for eagle. His fist pump would have knocked out even the strong-jawed among us. His lead was five.

“With that kind of fiery side of me, if I’m not playing the kind of golf I feel like I need to be playing, if I hit that one shot, I can pump myself up and try to get going and try to flip that switch,” Reed said. “Also, same way: If I feel like I’m playing really well, I almost feel like I can kick it into another gear and go even deeper.”

They have already been deep, these two. The 2016 Ryder Cup is just about defined by the singles match that began Sunday at Hazeltine, the sprawling course in the Minnesota farmland where Reed closed out McIlroy on the final hole. There, they wagged fingers at each other. Reed flapped his arms to fire up the crowd. McIlroy held his finger to his mouth to shush them.

“It will be calmer,” Reed said.

“It won’t be quite as intense as that Ryder Cup match, I don’t think,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll obviously still be feeling it. It’s the last round of a major championship, and Patrick is going for his first, and I’m going for,” and he paused for a breath, “something else.”

About that: the lone major championship not on McIlroy’s résumé is the Masters. Sunday, he will play in the final group in the final round at Augusta for the first time since 2011, when he woke up with a four-shot lead and signed that night for a disastrous 80.

“It was the day that I realized I wasn’t ready to win major championships, and I needed to reflect on that and realize what I needed to do differently,” McIlroy said. “But now, I am ready.”

Left unsaid: Is Reed ready? Or is he the 2011 version of McIlroy, with more to learn? We will learn that Sunday. And however it goes, and whoever moves forward, we’ll be able to tell just by looking at their gait and evaluating their posture. Both Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed left Augusta National preening Saturday night. Only one will likely depart this place with that carriage Sunday.

Jacob Bogage filed these live updates during Saturday’s round:

Reed takes three-shot lead into Sunday

A tight group pulled to the top of the leader board Saturday at the Masters led by Patrick Reed, a seventh-year pro from San Antonio who’s only once finished in the top 10 of a major championship.

But neither that history, nor Rory McIlroy’s charge, nor bursts of rain could dampen Reed’s Saturday score: a 6-under 67, putting him at 14 under par for the tournament and three shots ahead of McIlroy.

Reed opened with a steady first four holes, the put forth a scoring barrage starting with a birdie on the fifth, a par 4, then a string of three straight birdies on the eighth, ninth and 10th.

“I was able to adapt [to new course conditions] at about the fourth hole and from that point on, things just seemed to go the way I’d been playing,” Reed said in a TV interview with CBS after his round.

After a bogey on No. 12, he eagled both the 13th, sticking his second shot 14 feet from the cup  and tapping in on the par 5, and No. 15, another par-5, chipping in from off the green after a wacky iron. Headed into Sunday’s final round, Reed’s 14-under 202 is tied for the third lowest 54-hole score in Masters history.

Nothing seemed to faze him, even when McIlroy caught him at 9 under par after an eagle on the eighth.

Fowler stayed close with a bogey-free 65, and Jon Rahm carded the same to sit at 8 under par.

Tiger Woods, who flirted with the cut line Friday, played his most consistent round of the weekend and finished the day 4 over par. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, drifted further back in the field. His 74 puts him 7 over par overall.

Reed has a red-hot back nine

Could Patrick Reed’s day get any better? The Masters leader is through 16 holes, and has two eagles on the back nine.

After a wacky iron shot on No. 15, he chipped past the 15th green, then chipped in for eagle to go to 15-under par. He stuck his second shot within 14 feet of the cup on the par-5 13th and hit putt caught the outside lip of the hole and fell in.

That spree puts him at 5-under for the day and four shots up on Rory McIlroy, whose pace has slowed on the back nine. After drawing even with Reed at 9-under after an eagle on the par-5 eighth, he has just one birdie in his next nine holes.

Reed responds after McIlroy’s eagle

Rory McIlroy tested him, but Patrick Reed, a seven-year pro from San Antonio, is standing tall with a three-shot lead Saturday at the Masters.

After McIlroy pulled even with Reed at 9-under par with an eagle on the par-5 eighth, Reed responded with birdies on Nos. 8, 9 and 10 to push to 12-under.

McIlroy parred holes nine, 10 and 11.

The field behind the pair is still tight. Seven players sit within six shots of Reed, including Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler (both 7-under), and Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson and Marc Leishman (all 6-under).

McIlroy makes a charge

Here comes Rory McIlroy.

His chip for eagle on the par-5 eighth has him tied with Patrick Reed for the lead at 9-under par. McIlroy is 5-under in his Saturday round alone through eight holes.

A win at Augusta for McIlroy would seal his place as one of the greatest golfer of all time. He’d complete the career grand slam with a victory and avenge his Sunday meltdown at the Masters in 2011, when he lost a four-stroke lead on the tournament’s final day after carding an 80.

Still not the day for Tiger

Saturday’s round was better for Tiger Woods, but the charge for which golf has waited a decade did not come.

Woods carded an even 72 on Saturday, his third round at the Masters, leaving him at 4 over par and 13 shots back of leader Patrick Reed.

The four-time Masters champion was finally consistent after two days of topsy-turvy golf. Woods birdied the par-3 sixth, par-5 eighth and par-3 16th but bogeyed Nos. 1, 2 and 15. His tee shots stayed clear of obstacles, and he was able to save pars with his putter.

But during stretches where leaders have been aggressive on the lush course at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods never attacked the course. Reed, who leads at 9 under entering Saturday’s round, and second-positioned Marc Leishman were a combined 6 under par on holes 11 through 16 on Thursday and Friday, but Woods played them even through all three of his rounds.

The result was respectable, but not invigorating.

For that, look to the top 10 golfers remaining; all were within five shots of Reed, who teed off at 2:30 p.m.

Rickie Folwer eagled the par-5 second to climb to 6 under. Spaniard Jon Rahm birdied Nos. 1 and 2, then eagled the par-5 eighth to jump to 5 under. Rory McIlroy birdied Nos. 3 and 4 to earn a 5-under mark, as well.


The Post’s Barry Svrluga identifies five players who could win this weekend, including Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, and yes, Woods. Who could win but won’t? Jason Day heads that list. Read the rest of Svrluga’s breakdown here. The Post’s Neil Greenberg, meantime, gives the highest win probabilities to Reed entering the third round. His explanation is here. Josh Planos analyzes which six holes may decide Woods’s fate.

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