Getty Images

Reed leads Masters, with major task ahead

By Ryan LavnerApril 7, 2018, 1:09 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Used to big spots and even bigger pressure as the lightning rod on all of those U.S. teams, Patrick Reed finds himself in a new position at the Masters: Solo leader, with a host of major champions lined up behind him.

Reed ran off three consecutive birdies on three different occasions Friday during a 6-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead over Marc Leishman at Augusta National.

But if Reed thought Hazeltine was rocking, just wait until Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson charge up the leaderboard this weekend.

Of the top 13 players here, eight have won a major. That includes McIlroy, who is gunning for the career Grand Slam. And Spieth, in the mix for another green jacket. And Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world. And Justin Thomas, the hottest player in the game.

It’s a daunting task, outlasting all of those boldfaced stars, but when has Patrick Reed backed down from a challenge?

Asked what the stacked leaderboard means for his approach, Reed replied flatly: “Nothing. I’m going to do the same thing I’ve been doing. My game plan has gotten me to this point, and I have 36 more holes to stick to my game plan.”   

Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage

Working in the frontrunner’s favor: Augusta National is a difficult course on which to make up ground. Even the pursuers acknowledge this. “When you start to go for pins and you start chasing it,” McIlroy said, “that’s when you can bring in some trouble and make mistakes.”

Everyone seems likely to make mistakes in the third round. The challenge here is already immense, trying to land shots in a three-yard window on firm, speedy greens, but the issues could be compounded Saturday by heavy rain and 30-mph gusts.

“With the weather conditions (expected),” Leishman said, “we’re gonna have to worry about ourselves and not what everyone else is doing.”

At least they don’t have to worry about the game’s two biggest stars, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They blew themselves out of the tournament with sloppy second rounds, and they now sit 13 and 14 shots back, respectively.

Playing in the same group as Woods, Leishman shot 67 to earn his spot in the final group. His round was highlighted by his bold decision on the par-5 15th. Needing to keep pace with Reed, Leishman (who almost exclusively hits a cut) had no choice but to play a 40-yard hook around the pines for his 223-yard approach. The margin for error was razor-thin – any shot that doesn’t carry the front edge rolls back into the creek, and a ball racing over the green leaves a tricky up-and-down – but his shot was perfect. His ball landed on the front edge and trickled within 6 feet of the cup for eagle.

“To win this tournament you’re gonna have to take a chance at some point,” he said, “and that was one where the reward was worth the risk.”

Leishman, 34, has significantly more big-game experience than the 27-year-old Reed. The burly Australian lost a playoff at the 2015 Open, and five years ago, he had a front-row seat to greatness here at Augusta, riding shotgun during Adam Scott’s breakthrough victory in 2013.

“I saw first-hand what it takes to win around here,” he said.

Reed has been a menace in team events, the American version of Ian Poulter, but to this point has failed to deliver in the game’s biggest individual events. Reed shared the halfway lead at the 2015 U.S. Open, but in 16 career major starts, he has posted just one top-10 finish – last August, at the PGA, where he finished in a tie for second but bogeyed the 72nd hole to clear the way for Thomas.

“It’s not a position I feel is really any different,” he said.

Despite leading nearby Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles in 2010-11, Reed hasn’t enjoyed the same success at the home of the Masters. He’d broken par in just two of his previous 12 rounds here.

This week, Reed has 22 one-putt greens and birdied all eight of the par 5s to take his first outright lead in a major, at 9-under 135.

“I feel like I’m in a better frame of my golf game and mentally coming in,” he said. “I’ve done all the work. 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.”

The big-name major winners behind him understand that it’s not always that simple.

Getty Images

Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

Getty Images

Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”