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Masters leader Reed, the man many love to hate

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Patrick Reed chipped in for eagle at the 15th hole Saturday at the Masters and let loose a howl so fierce you expected it to send ripples across the pond there.

Fiery, pugnacious and combative.

That’s Reed at his best, stoking the embers of whatever burns within him.

It’s the guy Americans love, and Europeans hate to see emerge at the Ryder Cup.

It’s the guy he has been trying to awaken on bigger stages, outside the biennial international team event.

To be sure, Reed was able to rouse that persona Saturday, after hearing the roar Rory McIlroy created right in front him, after McIlroy made eagle at the eighth to tie him for the lead.

“I feel like I was able to tap into it a little bit today,” Reed said. “When I get to eight, my lead's gone, I'm all‑square, and to be able to all of a sudden go birdie, birdie, birdie and get back up by three ...”

That’s how Reed answered McIlroy.

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Reed rolled in a 9-footer for birdie at the eighth, a 25-footer for birdie at the ninth and another 9-footer for birdie at the 10th to jump three shots ahead of McIlroy.

It felt like Reed was wagging his finger at McIlroy all over again, the way he did in their terrific singles battle at the Ryder Cup two years ago, when McIlroy rolled in 70-footer for birdie at the eighth hole at Hazeltine and Reed rolled one in right on top of him.

Except Reed didn’t wag his finger Saturday.

“There's a lot of stuff you can do at the Ryder Cup that you can't do at Augusta National,” Reed said.

Reed is such a force on the Ryder Cup stage, but he hasn’t been able to conjure that same formidable presence in major championships. He has won five PGA Tour titles, but he’s 0 for 16 in majors.

But maybe he’s beginning to find it. He tied for second at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow late last summer. And here this week, he is playing like the dynamo who mows over Euros with such delight every other year.

With a 5-under-par 67, Reed took a three-shot lead on McIlroy going into Sunday’s final round, a five-shot lead on Rickie Fowler. He’s looking to make his first major memorable, slipping into a green jacket.

After answering McIlroy, Reed kept pounding the field on the back nine, making eagles at the 13th and 15th holes. There were triumphant fist pumps with each of them.

“I feel like, with that kind of fiery side of me, if I'm not playing the kind of golf 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.

Reed said that fiery spirit can lift him up when his game’s sagging.

“Also, same way if I'm playing really well,” Reed said. “I almost feel like I can kick it into another gear, and go even deeper.

“It's just one of those things that I've been working on, trying to tap into Ryder Cups more and more, and try to play some solid golf.”

Reed, 27, knows his pugnacious nature makes him a lightning rod, with his backstory of conflict stirring emotions in those who root for him and against him.

In 2014, he boldly shushed the crowds at Gleneagles in the Ryder Cup. He dares to don Tiger’s red-and-black ensemble on his own PGA Tour Sundays (though he’ll be wearing a special Masters’ pink this Sunday). And there was that football game in South Bend, Ind., last year, when he miffed Georgia fans posing for photos wearing Notre Dame attire in a Bulldogs-Fighting Irish game. He used to be a Bulldog, before things turned sour there.

Reed was booted off the Georgia team back in college, but this state is still a special place to him. He left the Bulldogs to lead Augusta State to back-to-back national championships.

Reed was asked what it is about him that can stoke such strong feelings from the social media mob who like rooting against him.

“I don't know,” he said. “Why don't you ask them? I have no idea, and honestly I don't really care what people say on Twitter or what they say if they are cheering for me or not cheering for me. I'm out here to do my job, and that's to play golf. I feel like if I'm doing it the right way, then that's all that really matters.”