Lynch: Rory McIlroy eyes redemption in Sunday showdown at Masters

Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

Lynch: Rory McIlroy eyes redemption in Sunday showdown at Masters

PGA Tour

Lynch: Rory McIlroy eyes redemption in Sunday showdown at Masters

 

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Saturday is a sleepless night in Augusta, Georgia. At least this Saturday. And not just for the golf fans getting in their last licks of liquor before heading home. The players won’t sleep much either, especially not the handful near the top of the leaderboard at the Masters, just one round standing between them and a long-cherished dream. 

Just ask Rory McIlroy. He had a four-stroke lead on a Saturday night in 2011. In his dreams of what Sunday would bring he surely saw himself going to Butler Cabin from the 18th green to receive the green jacket, not detouring into the lesser cabins left of the 10th tee, or crumpled over in agony on the 13th tee after yet another errant shot on the way to a heartbreaking 80.

That’s what Sunday at Augusta National does to a man.

Saturday is for swagger. Sunday is for guts. And tomorrow we’ll see if Patrick Reed can summon both in the biggest moment of his career.

Saturday was the day golf fans have long ached for: the game’s most compelling young stars jockeying on the weekend leaderboard at a major championship. At this major championship.

Reed, Rickie and Rahm, all seeking their first major win. McIlroy in search of the career grand slam. Jordan seeking his fourth major, Justin his second straight. Stenson representing the old guard, Bubba representing, well, himself.

Some of them got stuck in neutral, a few powered forward. The only guaranteed winners tomorrow are the fans that have been deprived of an all-star shootout with meaning for a long time. 

“I’ve been waiting for this chance to be honest,” McIlroy said, admitting that his 2011 collapse both hurt and helped. “It was the day 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. I learned a lot from it.”

Reed has never had that lesson administered, which McIlroy subtly pointed out. “It’s the last round of a major championship and we’re both going for…”

He paused.

“Patrick is going for his first and I’m going for something else.”

Sunday afternoon in Augusta will be just as unsettled as Saturday night. The final round of the Masters has defined many careers, regardless of what was achieved beyond the precincts of Augusta National. Winning here is different. Losing is too.

Some of the biggest names in the history of golf haven’t escaped the feeling of what might have been here. Trevino. Miller. Weiskopf. Els. Duval. I asked David Duval on Saturday afternoon if the pain of not winning the Masters was soothed when he won the British Open.  He smiled and shook his head. No.

At least one man will leave town Sunday with that empty feeling. Most won’t get close enough to choke or simply come up respectably short. A runaway by Reed absolves most guys of the pressure of having to perform. Except perhaps McIlroy, who may be the only man on the leaderboard who believes he can chase down Reed. He knows what that crucible is like on Sunday afternoon, how little the fist-pumping bravado of the previous three days matters, how fine the line is at Augusta National between a green jacket and a straitjacket. 

“Patrick has got a three-shot lead. I feel like all the pressure is on him. He’s got to go out and protect that, and he’s got a few guys chasing him that are pretty big-time players,” McIlroy said. “He’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight.

Or not.

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