AUGUSTA, Georgia – Patrick Reed, who tamed Augusta National’s par-5 holes to seize the Masters lead, launched his third round on Saturday with a raft of major champions on his tail.
Reed, who has made a name for himself in two Ryder Cup appearances, teed off alongside Australian Marc Leishman, who was two strokes back and also in pursuit of a first major title.
Light morning rain made the challenging Augusta National greens slightly more receptive, but with heavier showers, wind and possibly thunderstorms expected later in the day, afternoon starters were bracing for challenging conditions.
“Obviously, it becomes a technical golf course when the conditions get tougher and you’re presented with kind of tough breaks,” said 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth, who began the day tied for fourth with Rory McIlroy five shots off the lead.
“I think that’s an advantage for me,” added Spieth, the reigning British Open champion. “I feel like I tactically play this course very well.”
At 140, Spieth and McIlroy went into the day one stroke behind former British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden.
In all, eight reigning or former major champions started the day within seven strokes of Reed’s overnight lead.
That also included world number one Dustin Johnson and number two Justin Thomas, who just happen to be tussling for the top spot in the rankings this week as well.
Conspicuously absent from that pack was 14-time major-winner Tiger Woods, whose bid to produce a “special weekend” was derailed almost immediately on Saturday as he opened with back-to-back bogeys.
Woods, back at the Masters after a two-year injury absence, started the day 13 adrift and made no headway with an even-par 72.
He hit four out of 14 fairways, but said his real problem continued to be poor iron play.
“It has been scratchy this week,” he said. “I’m not getting it done. My swing is just off with my irons.”
Woods had battled back to even par for the day with seven-foot birdie putts at the sixth and eighth.
He managed to par the par-3 12th for the first time this week – after finding the water en route to bogeys on Thursday and Friday.
“I just couldn’t do it three days in a row. I just couldn’t,” said Woods, who bounced back from a bogey at the par-5 15th with his last birdie of the day, rolling in a five-footer at the par-3 16th.
Tiger at No. 12 this week.
Round 1: 💦
Round 2: 💦
Round 3: His reaction says it all. pic.twitter.com/81Lf2IQOM3
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who made the halfway cut on the number at 5-over-par, opened with a disastrous triple bogey seven at the first.
The big number included a whiff as Mickelson tried to hit out of the trees, his club appearing to hit a branch.
In classic Mickelson style, he managed to wow the gallery with an eagle at the par-5 eighth, where he hit driver off the deck as he swept his second shot 271 yards and made the nine-foot putt.
But Mickelson finished with a 2-over par 74 for a 7-over total of 223.
Even as Woods and Mickelson were spinning their wheels, there were signs that “Moving Day” could see plenty of action.
Rickie Fowler eagled the par-5 second to jump to 4-under.
World number three Jon Rahm of Spain opened with back-to-back birdies to move to 3-under through four holes.
Two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, 2-under to start the day, also birdied the second.
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick went off in the second group and fired a 5-under par 67 highlighted by an eagle at the 15th – pulling himself back to even par for the tournament.
Reed, who had never broken 70 in 12 career rounds at the Masters until this week, was brimming with confidence after rounds of 69 and 66 left him at 9-under 135 through 36 holes.
“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” Reed said.
“I feel like I know where I need to leave the golf ball... and it’s now just going out here and executing the game plan and staying disciplined enough to actually stick to that game plan.
“I’ve been doing that the first two days, and it’s allowing me to kind of attack this golf course and not make a lot of mistakes.”