The Masters: Round four preview including two-ball tips for Augusta National

Golf
Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas

Will it be Reed, will it be Rory, will it be Rickie, will it be Rahm? Ben Coley previews the final round of the Masters.

When Saturday's brutal forecast failed to materialise, Rory McIlroy was presented with an opportunity. Augusta National had been softened by rain, and when that happens his target golf can be almost impossible to beat.

McIlroy took full advantage, carding a round of 65 which owed a little to fortune and a lot to brilliance. Particularly impressive was the way he capitalised on a get-out-of-jail-free card at the 13th, making birdie at 15, scrambling par at 17, and finishing with a flourish with one more birdie at the last.

Every forward step was necessary, because in the group behind was a man on a mission. Patrick Reed's response to McIlroy joining him in the lead was to birdie his next three holes; his response to a bogey at the 12th was to eagle holes 13 and 15, although a mistake at the 16th saw McIlroy end the day within three.

Saturday was the warm-up and Sunday promises to be a boxing match for the ages, punch and counter-punch, a repeat of their 2016 Ryder Cup match. Reed, who came out best that day, sought to play down such comparisons while Rory attempted to deflect pressure onto the leader, to whom this situation is entirely new.

McIlroy is under pressure, that which he puts on himself is significant enough, let alone the weight of history as he seeks a career grand slam, but he's right to say that it'll be worse for Reed. Three-shot leads are not easily earned at Augusta, but they can be easily lost. McIlroy, who led by four in 2011, knows that better than anyone.

It's still hard to get excited about prices shorter than 2/1 about the man in second, whose four major championships have all been exhibitions in front-running. He'd of course argue that second place is an ideal position from which to pounce, but in his heart of hearts McIlroy would rather be out in front and with the fate of the tournament placed solely in his hands.

For Reed, this is a massive test and while his early days on the PGA Tour were notable for his front-running prowess, his last two final-round scores from this position have been 75 and 77. That he's only been in front after three rounds once since the start of the 2015 season and never in a major tells you that, for all his bluster and bravado, he will surely be battling nerves he's never felt before come the first tee.

It's strange that he's sought to downplay the Ryder Cup theme, given that he's on home soil and that he came out best at Hazeltine, and there are enough doubts to avoid backing him at what would ordinarily look a decent price. These are extraordinary circumstances and while 6/5 assumes that he will struggle a little, that may be fair.

Heart says McIlroy, head says Reed, neither say bet. This will be an enthralling final round regardless, especially with Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm lurking just behind.

Sunday's banker

So far, so good with the daily headline selections, with Russell Henley somehow making it three from three when he birdied the 18th yesterday.

He's 8/11 to do us yet another turn and beat Satoshi Kodaira today which is probably fair, but I make the best bet Justin Thomas to beat Jordan Spieth at 11/10.

You might have noticed that the bankers so far have been from much lower-key matches and that's with good reason, but on this occasion I have to side with Thomas after yet another step forward in his Masters career yesterday.

Clearly, he has a long way to go to match Spieth's exploits at Augusta, but Thomas hit 17 out of 18 greens in round three and could so easily have matched those rounds of 65 from further up the leaderboard had he made his share from inside 15 feet.

That he didn't confirms that it's the greens which he still needs to figure out to crack it, but the strength of his long game is such that he's strongly fancied to beat Spieth, who has laboured after an opening 66.

Thomas has outscored his friend each of the last four times they've teed up, by a combined 14 shots, and even boasts a career head-to-head lead - surprising given that when he came onto the PGA Tour, Spieth was already at elite level.

While Spieth will surely enter the final round frustrated at having wasted another opportunity to contend here, Thomas may realise that the good work he does today will help him challenge next year.

The PGA Tour's leader in final-round scoring is a confident fancy.

Next best

Truth be told there aren't many matches I like the look of today, but the 4/5 offered in one place and general 8/11 about Hideki Matsuyama beating Adam Hadwin looks more than fair.

Matsuyama failed to make the anticipated progress yesterday, but continues to operate at a high level around Augusta where he's closed with rounds of 66 and 67 in recent years.

Last summer, he carded a final-round 66 to climb from 14th to second in the US Open and while unlikely to get much higher than 10th from just outside the top 20 today, he's perfectly capable of producing one of the lower rounds.

Hadwin was reportedly struggling a little with his set-up entering the weekend and while he steadied the ship after a rocky start, he's up against it here.

Others to consider

Louis Oosthuizen is tied first for greens hit, knows all about a Sunday charge in a major championship and would've been of interest but for drawing Justin Rose, another likely candidate for a low number.

Rafa Cabrera Bello is the type of solid operator who makes some sense as a 7/4 underdog alongside Tiger Woods, while upwards of 2/1 about Bernd Wiesberger beating an off-colour Jason Day is tempting.

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