AUGUSTA, Ga., April 7 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy will get another chance to silence U.S. Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed with a place in the history books at stake for the Northern Irishman in Sunday’s final pairing at the Masters.
McIlroy rolled in a 17-foot birdie putt at the 18th to cap a bogey-free third round of seven-under 65 at Augusta National on Saturday to sit three strokes behind Reed but still in with a shot at becoming the sixth man to complete a career grand slam.
Needing a Green Jacket to round out his collection that includes a U.S. Open, British Open and two PGA Championships, the Briton will share the course with the man whom he waged a classic battle against at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
McIlroy, 28, can avenge a 1-up loss to Reed in that Ryder showdown and put to rest his nightmare collapse at the 2011 Masters when he carried a four-shot lead into the final round before soaring to an 80 and a tie for 15th.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance. I’ve always said 2011 was a huge turning point in my career. I realised I wasn’t really ready to win major championships,” he told reporters.
“I’m not in the lead like I was going into that day. I’m not protecting a lead. There’s not as much pressure.”
McIlroy needed to make a fast start on Saturday and he duly obliged, with birdies at three and four, and a tap-in at the par-three sixth, before holing a 70-foot chip shot for eagle at the par-five eighth to reach nine under par.
Some good fortune buoyed him on the back nine as he sought to stay in touch with the surging Reed.
He parred the 13th after digging deep into the azaleas on the left side of the green to find his ball, made birdie at the par-five 15th after a wayward drive into the trees, and got a favorable bounce off a tree on his way to the birdie on 18.
“I rode my luck a little bit,” he admitted. “Some days it’s with you and some days against you and today it was with me.
“Now I’m in the final group and I have a chance to win another major.
“I feel like Patrick has a three-shot lead and all the pressure is on him. All the players chasing him are pretty big time players. He’s got that to sleep on tonight. I feel like I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Reed will be going for his first major championship win, while McIlroy looks to join one of golf’s most exclusive clubs including career grand slam winners Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“I can’t imagine there is going to be much chat out there between us tomorrow,” McIlroy said about his Sunday playing partner. “We’re both trying to do something special.” (Editing by John O’Brien)