AUGUSTA, GA. – This was not the Patrick Reed who peacocked around Hazeltine National. This was not Captain America, but someone whose task could be grasped by Captain Obvious.
With a three-stroke lead entering the final round of the Masters, Reed would not be leading cheers, as he famously did at the Hazeltine Ryder Cup. Instead of wagging fingers, he would pursue the green jacket with white knuckles.
Reed’s task was as simple as it was difficult: Hold off Rory McIlroy and a dynamic leaderboard, and hold on to his wits under the kind of pressure he admitted even his Ryder Cup exploits did not prepare him for.
This would require nerve, and luck. Reed hit a shot into the bank above Rae’s Creek on the 13th hole and it stuck, allowing him to save par. He hit a putt that looked destined to roll all the way to Butler’s Cabin on the 17th, and it clipped the hole, slowing it enough so Reed could make the comebacker and save another par.
After three brilliant rounds at Augusta National, Reed found his own nerves to be his primary opponent. He won his internal battle and his first major championship, shooting a 71 to win by one stroke over hard-charging Rickie Fowler on a wild Sunday.
“It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it,’ ” Reed said. “Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent, but do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?”
Until he made a testing 4-footer on the 18th to seal the victory, Reed was most famous for his Hazeltine antics and a troubled past. He played in the final group with McIlroy, who was three shots back.
Reed woke up early Sunday morning and turned on the Golf Channel, hearing almost every analyst predict a McIlroy victory. Reed talked himself into believing that he was the underdog. Athletic motivation is never required to be logical.
“It seemed like the pressure at that point was kind of lifted off,” Reed said. “No one expects me to go out and win.”
Reed beat McIlroy in an emotional singles match at the Hazeltine Ryder Cup, and beat him by three shots Sunday. “Momentum is a huge thing, especially in final rounds,” McIlroy said. “It wasn’t what we both had in mind.”
Reed’s rise is framed by a nasty reputation. He played at the University of Georgia but was kicked off the team. Author Shane Ryan, a Golf Digest contributor, has reported that Reed was dismissed for cheating during practice rounds and stealing from teammates.
Golf blogger Stephanie Wei received a statement from Jason Payne, an assistant coach at Georgia during Reed’s one year there. The statement read, in part, “There is no doubting the ability of Patrick as a golfer, it was Patrick as a person that we chose not to associate with. … The story that has been reported by Shane Ryan is an accurate account of his college career at UGA — including the suspicions held by his former teammates.”
Wei reported that Reed had similar problems at Augusta State. Reed is also estranged from his parents.
Reed’s brash side surfaced publicly when, after winning at Doral in 2014, he called himself a “top-five player in the world,” which at the time was more a reflection of his self-esteem than reality.
Reed dominated in match play in college, at the 2014 Ryder Cup and at Hazeltine in 2016. He has finished second and first in his past two majors. Reality has caught up with his ambitions and, perhaps, begun to overshadow his past.
“[Sunday] was definitely the hardest mentally a round of golf could possibly be,” he said. “At the Ryder Cup, it’s just a totally different type of pressure. You go to a Ryder Cup and you feel like you have a whole nation on your back. You know if you win or lose your match, you still have a bunch of other guys there that could pick it up.”
Reed acquired a green jacket Sunday by calming his nerves and ignoring the roars prompted by a world-class leaderboard. By beating McIlroy and surviving the field, he displayed the kind of game that could have him soon, yes, ranked among the top five golfers in the world.