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Reed vs. McIlroy: Will it be Ryder Cup revisited?

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2018, 12:27 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Rory McIlroy famously tormented the Hazeltine National masses during the 2016 Ryder Cup, challenging the partisan crowd with roars of “I can’t hear you!” Patrick Reed responded with the game’s most memorable finger wag.

Prepare for more of that type of histrionics on Sunday at the Masters thanks to one of the most frenzied days in tournament history.

The stage will be Reed’s when the final pairing sets out for the last lap around Augusta National thanks to the type of charge that turns solid rounds into stories that get retold every April. But McIlroy will be the most compelling supporting character the game has seen for decades.

If Saturday’s give and take between the two was any indication, it will be every bit as entertaining as the epic singles duel between the two at the ’16 Ryder Cup.

The Augusta fireworks began when McIlroy hit an aggressive chip from 28 yards right of the eighth green that had more pace than he would have liked, but the ball crashed into the flagstick and dropped into the hole for an eagle to move him into a share of the lead.

Playing a hole behind the plucky Northern Irishman, Reed heard the reaction.

“I mean, of course, I heard the roar on 8,” Reed conceded.

Not to be outdone, the player who is often described as America’s bulldog chipped in for eagle at the 15th hole from 27 yards to extend his advantage to five strokes.

McIlroy also heard.

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“Yeah, I heard it. I think I was on 17 tee at that point and I saw that he went to 15 [under],” McIlroy said.

It won’t exactly be a singles match on Sunday, but it’ll be close.

Despite a bogey at the 16th hole to slow his momentum, Reed closed with a 67 and is on the verge of becoming the first player to post four rounds in the 60s at the Masters.

For those who reveled in the festivities on Day 3, it will be Reed’s eagles at Nos. 13 and 15 or his three consecutive birdies that started at No. 8 that fill up the highlight reel. But for those looking for something deeper to suggest the 27-year-old is finally ready for his major breakthrough, it could have come on the 14th hole when he calmly two-putted from 95 feet like he’d been shot full of Ritalin, no nerves, no signs of the slightest crack, no stress.

But it was a Saturday, and tensions have a tendency to climb in relation to how close a player gets to the finish line, particularly at a major championship that’s defined by late-inning pressure.

As well as Reed has performed in the Ryder and Presidents Cups for the U.S. side, his record on the Grand Slam stage has not reached the same heights.

In 16 major starts he has just a single top-10 finish, albeit at last year’s PGA Championship (T-2), and he’s never finished inside the top 20 at the Masters. Nor has he been particularly prolific since that epic duel at Hazeltine National, going winless on Tour the last year and a half.

“It's probably one of the best matches we ever played. It was probably also one of the most exhausting matches we ever played,” Reed explained.

Perhaps Reed has emerged from that post-Ryder Cup haze, but there’s more recent history to suggest that his three-stroke advantage – and he’s five clear of any player not named McIlroy – isn’t as safe as it might appear.

Just last month at the Valspar Championship he stepped to the 72nd tee needing a birdie to win. His approach shot came up short and he failed to clear a hill with his third on his way to a bogey.

This week he’s embraced a more basic approach. Instead of allowing the pressure that’s inherent to major championships to consume him he opted for a more workman-like approach.

“You don't need to put four perfect rounds together to win out here, especially at majors,” Reed said. “You can put four decent rounds, and if you are playing well, you have a good chance come Sunday.”

It was a lesson McIlroy learned in 2011 at this course when he turned a four-stroke, 54-hole lead into a woeful tie for 15th place after a closing 80.

“I always have said that 2011 was a huge turning point in my career,” said McIlroy, who shot a 65 to move to within three strokes of Reed. “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.”

Although both will relish the chance to rekindle that Ryder Cup bout, Sunday will not be the same. Missing will be the partisan, and often over-served, crowds that made Hazeltine such a raucous environment. Gone will be the team colors that both savor.

There will also be a few other interested players who may have a say in the final outcome.

Rickie Fowler matched McIlroy for round of the day with a 65 that included an eagle at the second and birdies on two of his final four holes to move to 9 under, and Jon Rahm, who in his second start at the Masters looks like he has the savvy of a Spanish veteran, added his own 65 and was at 8 under.

“It's definitely not a two-horse race at this point,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot more guys.”

No, this won’t be the same as Hazeltine. This has the potential to be better, given the setting, Augusta National’s storied closing nine that has produced so many memorable moments, and two players with the type of history that’s only born from a relationship that has been forged on the competitive edge.

It was here back in 2014 when McIlroy slung the first arrow after Reed had confidently dubbed himself after his victory at Doral a “top-5 player.” The two were to be paired together, along with Jordan Spieth, for Rounds 1 and 2 when McIlroy was asked about the threesome.

“Yeah, there’s going to be no top-5 players in that group,” McIlroy smiled wily.

A victory won’t move Reed into that coveted top-5 neighborhood, but it promises to be the type of duel the world will hear.

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

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Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.

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Airlines lose two sets of Olesen's clubs in 10 days

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 7:50 pm

Commercial airlines losing the golf clubs of a professional golfer is not exactly a groundbreaking story. It happens.

But European Tour pro Thorbjorn Olesen is on quite the roll, losing two sets of clubs and five suitcases in the span of 10 days.

Olesen, the reigning Italian Open champ, claimed his primary set of golf clubs were lost last week. Having little faith they'd be found before this week's Nordea Masters, he decided to bring his backup set for the event in Sweden.

A veteran move by the 28-year-old, unless, of course, those clubs were lost too. And wouldn't you know it:

After pestering the airlines with some A+ GIFs, Olesen was reunited with at least one of his sets and was back in action on Wednesday.

He also still plans on giving his golf bag away to some lucky follower, provided it's not lost again in transit. Something he's no longer taking for granted.

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Podcast: Brandel compares Tiger and Hogan's comebacks

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 15, 2018, 6:48 pm

Tiger Woods on Sunday at Bellerive recorded his seventh runner-up finish in a major and his first in nine years.

A favorite guest of the Golf Channel Podcast, Brandel Chamblee joins host Will Gray to compare and contrast Tiger's return to competitive golf with that of Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the 1950s.

Chamblee also discusses Brooks Koepka's major dominance, Bellerive as a major venue, Tiger and Phil as Ryder Cup locks, and who else might be in line to receive Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn's remaining captain's picks.

Finally, Brandel shares what it was it was like to qualify for the Senior Open Championship and compete for a major title on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Listen here: