McIlroy in the mix for Career Grand Slam heading into Masters finale
History is within touching distance for Rory McIlroy as he enters Sunday in the final pairing at the Masters – where victory would make him just the sixth man to complete a Career Grand Slam.
No European has ever won all four majors but by completing his set at Augusta, McIlroy would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in the pantheon of the game’s truest legends.
The Northern Irishman carded a spectacular seven-under round of 65 on Saturday to position himself in second, although he still trails leader Patrick Reed by three shots to set up what promises to be a scintillating Sunday. Get your popcorn ready!
McIlroy making moves
Bogey-free golf was what McIlroy needed and exactly what he got on Moving Day as five birdies were added to by a spectacular eagle at the par-five eighth.
Facing a daunting chip from the undulations to the right of the green, the 2014 Champion Golfer of the Year pitched into the light rough and watched the ball kick on to the dancefloor, hit the flag and rattle into the cup for an unlikely three.
By the end of the round, the 28-year-old’s tournament score of 11-under wasn’t quite enough to match Reed’s 14-under but the duo will form Sunday’s final pair at Augusta, teeing off at 7.40pm UK time.
The clash evokes memories of their classic singles match at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine – which Reed edged by one hole – and McIlroy insists the weight of expectation is on the American.
“Patrick has a three-shot lead, and all the pressure is on him,” he said. “He has got to protect that and he has some pretty big-time players behind him. I feel I can go out and play as if I have nothing to lose. But this isn’t a two-horse race."
“It's the last round of a major championship, and we're both going for… Patrick is going for his first and I'm going for something else! It’s going to be good fun.”
Reed ready for his first major
Having posted rounds of 69, 66 and 67, Reed is gunning for his own piece of history – looking to become the first man to shoot under 70 in every round of a Masters. He appears to be getting stronger every day and Saturday saw him card three consecutive birdies for the fifth time this week, although a bogey at the par-three 16th stopped him being four shots clear going into the final 18.
The 27-year-old’s best performance at an Open Championship is his tied-12th at Royal Troon in 2016, although he is a different animal in America – as proved by finishing as runner-up at last year’s PGA Championship. That said Reed won The Junior Open at Hesketh in 2006.
And as he looks to secure a first major, Reed was keen to heap the pressure back on his more decorated opponent ahead of Sunday’s duel.
"I am leading, so I guess so,” he said, when asked about McIlroy saying the pressure was all on him. “But at the same time, he's trying to go for the Career Grand Slam. You can put it either way. It's going to be electrifying. The fans are going to be ready to go, they are going to be ready to cheer for whoever is making putts, whoever is making birdies or pulling off shots.”
Champion Golfers holding steady
Another pair of Open Champions were poised to strike heading into Saturday but Henrik Stenson and Jordan Spieth ultimately remained rather static on Moving Day.
Reigning Champion Golfer Spieth posted three birdies and two bogeys for a 71 – better than his second-round 74 but a far cry from his majestic 66 on Thursday. The 24-year-old was supreme to lift the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale last summer but to slip on a second Green Jacket at this year’s Masters, he’ll need to come from tied ninth – nine shots back of Reed.
The man who directly preceded Spieth as Champion Golfer of the Year, Stenson, carded a second consecutive 70 to move into a tie for fifth.
The Swede is seven shots back of Reed but paired with Tommy Fleetwood – who memorably shot a course-record 63 at Carnoustie, the host of this summer’s Open Championship, back in October – the duo will be seeking birdies as part of the third-last group going out at 7.20pm BST.
Other contenders ready to pounce
It may look like something of a two-horse race at Augusta on Sunday but if Reed and McIlroy do falter, then there are some big names still seeking a maiden major ready to pounce.
Fleetwood’s Saturday 66 has him on six-under, eight shots off the lead, although a 65 was there for the taking had the Englishman not bogeyed the last.
However, 65 was the score for the duo that make up Sunday’s penultimate group, teeing off at 7.30pm BST.
World No.3 Jon Rahm’s opening-day 75 is now a distant memory as even Friday’s 68 was eclipsed by his five-birdie, one-eagle round on Moving Day – leaving the Spaniard fourth on eight-under.
One stroke better off in third is American Rickie Fowler, who has oodles of experience contending at a major – his tie for second at The 143rd Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014 is one of seven top-five finishes at majors – but is yet to taste victory in one.