Augusta, 08 April: It is Sunday at the Masters. Enough said.
McIlroy is chasing history – a chance to become the sixth man to win all four majors in his career. Reed is hunting for his first taste of major success. The bridge to greatness stands still, waiting to witness another brave hero cross it without trembling knees.
One is in the mould of an Irish Wolfhound, a symbol of resilience. The other is a Pit Bull, tenacious to the end. And they are set to battle on a course that has made more golfing history than any other. It is a feast alright, but not for the weak hearted. There are going to be sparks even as they set off the first tee, waiting for that one moment of loud expression. And when it comes, they can all coalesce into a grand fire that burns the house and its patrons in the blue heat of brilliance.
McIlroy is a man on a mission. The scars he suffered in 2011 have served to purify the young man’s soul. On that Sunday seven years ago, McIlroy woke up with a four stroke cushion before melting away into the distance with an ugly 80. The round hurt his flesh and taught him lessons. Maybe even inform his evolution as a person.
The 28 year old has worked tirelessly since then to refine his margins. Adding variations, improving his chipping, reaching closer with his irons and staying focused to read the lines better on the greens. The rewards seem to be coming, slowly but surely.
After bursting through the gates with irrepressible energy and rising to the top, McIlroy has endured injury and personal disappointments to steel himself and emerge better. The victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational was built on a solid 8-under effort on Sunday, characteristic of the player we have learnt to admire.
Reed is a player that runs brilliantly against the grain. He was thrown off the Georgia team as a college kid. The unflappable young man went to Augusta State and helped them win not one, but two NCAA Division 1 national titles.
“I think the biggest thing is just going out and playing golf,” Reed said. “I’m trying to not allow the moment to take over me. Really just go out and play some golf and just hit golf shots.”
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball well enough, I feel like I’m putting well enough. I just need to go out and play the game and not worry about everything else and just play golf.”
McIlroy hasn’t tasted major success since winning the Open and PGA Championships in 2014. But the manner in which he ended a lengthy drought with a mesmerizing performance at Bay Hill bodes well for McIlroy.
“I’ve been waiting for this chance, to be honest. I always have said that, you know, 2011 was a huge turning point in my career,” said McIlroy. “It was the day that I realised I wasn’t ready to win Major championships, and I needed to reflect on that and realise what I needed to do differently.
“But now I am ready. I learned a lot from it. I’m happy to be in the final group. Obviously I’m not in the lead like I was going into that day, so I probably don’t have as much pressure. I don’t have to protect anything. I can go out and sort of free-wheel , which is a great position to be in. I wish I was a little closer to the lead or leading, but I’m in the final group and I’ve shot 65 on moving day at the Masters. It’s all I can ask for.”
The final pairing is also all that the patrons can ask for. The duo produced electricity in their last outing together, when they threatened to burn down Hazeltine with their steely performances in the Ryder Cup contest on Sunday. It took a fine birdie on the 18th for Reed to win that one by the narrowest of margins.
It is Sunday at the Masters. And it will take more than a birdie for one of these two fine golfers to win the Green Jacket.