Patrick Reed takes lead as Masters takes shape without Tiger Woods in mix

Reed started and finished the front nine with three straight birdies. He answered Marc Leishman's bold shot for an eagle by polishing off another run of three straight birdies.

By: AP | Published: April 7, 2018 12:25:31 pm

Patrick Reed Patrick Reed of the U.S. hits from next to a tree on the 17th fairway. (Source: Reuters)

Patrick Reed is leading a major championship for the first time, and his confidence is so high that he can only see what’s ahead of him.

Maybe that’s just as well at this Masters.

Reed started and finished the front nine with three straight birdies. He answered Marc Leishman’s bold shot for an eagle by polishing off another run of three straight birdies. It added to a 6-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Leishman going into the weekend at Augusta National.

Right behind them are five major champions.

Nowhere near him are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the two names that generated so much of the buzz for a Masters that otherwise is living up to expectations.

None of it matters to Reed, who is going after his first major.

“Everyone wants to win, and if you don’t believe you can win them, then you probably shouldn’t be playing in them,” Reed said. “I believe that if I play the golf that I know how to play that I can win majors. … There’s a lot of holes left, and I just need to go out and keep to my game plan, play some solid golf and just go out and continue shooting in the 60s and see if it gets the job done.”

Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson still have a say in that.

Woods and Mickelson probably don’t.

Woods hit one shot into a cluster of magnolia trees and another into Rae’s Creek. He didn’t make a birdie until the 13th hole and had to settle for a 3-over 75, leaving him 13 shots behind. No one has ever won the Masters when trailing by more than eight shots going into the weekend.

“I’m going to have to shoot a special weekend and I need help,” Woods said. “I’m not in control of my own destiny.”

Mickelson smacked a shot into the trees trying to escape a forest and made triple bogey, deposited a tee shot into Rae’s Creek on No. 12 for a double bogey and shot a 79, matching his worst score at Augusta National. He started the day four shots out of the lead. He ended the day making the cut on the number.

Even without them, the show is just getting started.

Reed was a runner-up at the PGA Championship last summer, though he played the final hole without a chance to win. His best performance on the big stage has been in the Ryder Cup.

“Going to treat it just like another day, go out and try to do what I’ve been doing and stick to my game plan and try to make some more birdies,” Reed said.

He was at 9-under 135.

Leishman seized on his moment with the best shot of the day. His tee shot on the 15th was too far left, leaving trees between him and the flag. Instead of laying up from 210 yards, he closed with the face of a 5-iron, aimed toward the right bunker.

“I meant to hook it 30 yards, and I put 40 yards of hook on it,” Leishman said with a smile.

The ball narrowly cleared the mound at the front of the green, caught the slope and settled 6 feet away for an eagle.

“We’re not here to lay up,” Leishman said. “It’s a major. You’re going to have to take some chances at some point during the week if you want to win, and that was a time where I thought I had to take a chance. I’ve been hitting that shot well on the range and I thought it was a prime opportunity to give it a test. And it came off.”

Stenson (70) was four shots behind. McIlroy (71) is off to his best 36-hole start in seven years and is looking as poised as ever to capture the fourth leg of the career Grand Slam. Spieth lost his two-shot lead on the first hole and was on the verge of getting left behind until he made a key par putt to close out the front nine with a 40, and then salvaged a 74 to join McIlroy just five shots behind.

“I’ve always been comfortable around the lead,” McIlroy said. “It’s a place that I’m thankfully quite familiar with and know how to deal with.”

Looming was Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, who made a 45-foot par putt on the 16th to atone for several birdie putts in the 10-foot range he missed. Johnson had a 68 and was six shots behind, along with Thomas, who had a 67.

Eleven of the 17 players still under par at the halfway point can be found among the top 20 in the world.

Spieth was happy to be near the top after the way he started _ a tee shot into the trees on the right and a three putts for a double bogey, and then a drive to the left and three more putts for a bogey. Just like that he was behind, and it kept getting worse. He made bogey from the middle of the fairway on No. 7. He three-putted from long range on the par-5 eighth. And he was headed for a 41 on the front nine until he made a 10-foot par putt.

“I’m still in this golf tournament,” Spieth said. “With the way the back nine was playing today, the wheels could have come off there. But I made some nice par saves and was able to grind out some phenomenal second-shot iron shots and good two-putt birdies.”

Woods made bogey on the opening hole with a sand wedge from the fairway. He really came undone when his second shot to the fifth bounded over the green and into a grove of magnolia trees. He took a penalty drop to clear room through the branches, put that in the bunker and made double bogey. Very little went right except for a pair of birdies on the par 5s on the back nine.

Looking at the white leaderboards only made him feel worse. The cut is for the top 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. Woods kept seeing Reed make birdies, and he knew he was well outside the 10 shots.

“I was hoping to keep it within 10. I didn’t know what my position was, but I think I’m in,” he said after his round.

He was tied for 40th.

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