AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Like legions of golfers his age, young Patrick Reed wanted to grow up to be like Tiger Woods. He took lessons at Hank Haney's ranch in Texas at a time when Haney was teaching Woods. He studied Tiger as if he were a grown-up NFL scout trying to find the secret to an opponent's success.
Reed's instructor at the time, Peter Murphy, would tell ESPN.com that his student learned that he didn't just want to play like Tiger; he wanted to act like Tiger, too.
"Patrick took a lot away from Tiger's demeanor, and his intimidation, the way Tiger had an air about him," Murphy said. "Patrick tried to portray a little of that when playing himself. He wanted to show people that he wouldn't back down."
Reed has never backed down; that much is clear. He has never been afraid to violate golf's code of conduct, choosing to celebrate himself more than the virtues of the game he plays. He talks trash and does end zone dances. He acts more like a gyrating closer in baseball, or a self-promoting kickboxer, than he does a proper gentleman of a country-club game.
But Reed has never faced what he is about to face Sunday at the Masters. He has never won a major, and he has never held the 54-hole lead in a major. He will carry a 3-shot advantage over Rory McIlroy into a final round that will determine whether the 27-year-old Reed has the heart and soul of an in-his-prime Woods, the four-time Masters champ, or whether Reed remains something of a paper Tiger.
His nearest opponent, McIlroy, seems to believe the latter, as he seized the opportunity -- first in a CBS interview, then again in his Augusta National news conference -- to remind Reed that he will be weighed down by a burden Sunday as big as the grand, old oak behind the clubhouse.
"I feel like all the pressure is on him," McIlroy said.
Rory suggested that Reed wouldn't sleep soundly on his lead, and that his national-championship career at Augusta State will create a hometown expectation that will be as forbidding as the tee shot at No. 12. Despite the fact that he can become the sixth golfer, and the first European, to win the career Grand Slam, McIlroy swore he could fire at the Sunday pins without a care in the world.
McIlroy lost the psychological battle to Reed during the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, where the Irishman assumed the role of pro-wrestling heel -- screaming and gesturing at the American fans while trying to rattle Reed -- before the home team's most confident player put him away. Reed doesn't expect the same playing environment this time around.
"There's a lot of stuff you can do at the Ryder Cup that you can't do at Augusta National," he said.
And yet Reed does expect the same result in this higher-stakes rematch.
We shall see. McIlroy shot 65 Saturday, with some fist-pumping punctuation after his chip-in eagle on No. 8 (his first eagle in 176 Masters holes) to temporarily tie Reed, and again after sinking a long birdie putt on 18. Reed also had a chip-in eagle, at No. 15, to open a 5-shot lead two holes after sinking an eagle putt at 13. But he missed a birdie attempt on the final hole after a meaningful par save at the 17th.
As the day was coming to a close, Nick Faldo, a six-time major winner, said on the CBS broadcast that McIlroy, a four-time major winner, was his favorite to take the tournament from Reed, a zero-time major winner.
"This is new to him," Faldo said of the leader.
Reed has long made a habit of wearing red on Sundays -- Tiger Woods red. But he said he will be wearing pink this time as part of his deal with Nike, Tiger's chief benefactor. Either way, we know how Woods would have responded to a 3-shot lead over McIlroy. He would have shredded the par-5s the way Reed has shredded them this week, and he would have played smart, prevent-defense golf when it was called for. Woods was 14-0 in majors when entering the final round in the lead before losing to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship.
Tiger would have beaten Rory in his day. Reed?
"I'm not out there to play Rory," he said. "I'm out there to play the golf course."
As far as McIlroy's mind games and the final-round pressure he will confront, Reed said, "I am leading. I mean, I guess so. But at the same time, he's trying to go for the career Grand Slam. You can put it either way. I woke up this morning, felt fine, didn't feel any pressure. Just came out and tried to play some golf. And I believe that's how it's going to be [Sunday]."
The final pairing of Reed-McIlroy should be an awful lot of fun. Yes, a duel in the gathering evening shadows between Woods and Mickelson would have been the best-case scenario by three country miles. Tiger and Phil are one-name superstars who were busy contending (Tiger) and winning (Phil) in the weeks before arriving at Augusta National, raging successfully against their tick, tick, ticking biological clocks. Instead, Saturday we saw Lefty whiff -- yes, whiff -- on a shot from under a tree, and we saw Righty (Tiger) mockingly raise his arms in triumph and make the safe sign after finally, mercifully, landing his tee shot on the 12th green.
So we have to settle for a round that shapes up as the mother of all consolation prizes, and a Masters endgame they could be talking about for decades to come. McIlroy is playing for history. Five shots back of Reed is a rock star, Rickie Fowler. If Fowler isn't the best player to never win a major, he's surely the most popular player to never win a major. Six shots back is Jon Rahm, a 23-year-old from Spain with some serious Seve Ballesteros game.
They will all try to turn up the heat on the front-runner, Reed, who has one career top-10 in a major (last summer's runner-up finish at the PGA) and who shot 75 and 77 the past two times he held the 54-hole lead in a tour event.
It is true that Reed has been a titanic team figure in the Ryder Cup, matching the Europeans' precision and passion like few Americans before him. But in the end, golfers are judged on their individual successes and failures. Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, fair or unfair, we will find out whether Patrick Reed is a true Tiger. Or whether he just plays one on TV.