Sunday’s Masters victory by Patrick Reed may not have been the most popular conclusion in the tournament’s 80-plus year history, but it was certainly one of the most well-earned.
At various stages during Sunday’s final round, Reed was challenged by three of golf’s most high profile performers, each of whom would have been a much more popular champion.
Even though Reed led the Augusta State golf team to back-to-back NCAA Championships in 2010 and ’11, challengers Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler all would have been much better received as champions by the Masters patrons.
Reed has been a true lone wolf in golf dating back to his days as a junior in his native state of Texas. His three years as a college golfer are known as much for his dismissal as a freshman from Georgia and his problems with teammates in both Athens and Augusta as his accomplishments, which made him arguably the most consequential golfer in collegiate history.
Since turning pro immediately after his junior season at Augusta State, Reed has avoided the negative headlines that accompanied his college career, but drew some unfavorable reaction to comments he made about his standing in the game after scoring his third PGA Tour win early in his second season.
He has rebuffed all efforts to get him to acknowledge his alleged misdeeds in Athens and the animosity between him and his Augusta teammates, but the quality of his play as a pro, particularly his efforts in the last two Ryder Cups and last year’s Presidents Cup, have been the most prominent topics of discussion about Reed in recent years.
Still, the stories from his college days in Athens and Augusta and his estrangement from his family, who live in Augusta, continue to circulate, and were rehashed in some of the articles written during and after his triumph at Augusta National.
Since his days as a junior golfer, when he played in long pants in the Texas heat to prepare himself for his future life as a PGA Tour member, Reed has had a single-minded approach to his path to success in golf, and that single-mindedness produced a memorable Masters victory Sunday.
Reed did not come into the Masters as one of the more logical favorites, a result of his undistinguished if relatively brief history at Augusta National and the more than 18 months since his last PGA Tour victory.
A tie for second in last year’s PGA Championship was his best finish in a major prior to his victory Sunday, but it ended with a bogey on the 72nd hole, the same as his most recent opportunity at a title in Tampa.
Reed had played poorly on Sunday the last two times he held a 54-hole lead, dropping out of the top 10 both times, and had ample opportunity to let another lead slip away Sunday in Augusta.
He was paired in the final group with McIlroy, who was a short eagle putt on the second hole from erasing Reed’s 3-shot lead almost before the final round got under way. Reed was shaky from the outset Sunday, hitting his opening drive near a tree left of the first fairway, resulting in a pitch out and a bogey. His lead was reduced from three to one as he stood on the third tee, but he left the hole with his 3-stroke lead restored when he holed a birdie putt from the back fringe and McIlroy bogeyed.
A birdie at the difficult par-3 fourth pulled McIlroy within two. But he missed a short par putt at the fifth, and after a tap-in birdie by Reed at the seventh and a sloppy McIlroy bogey at the eighth, Rory was no factor the rest of the way. He wound up in a disappointing tie for fifth and will return to Augusta next April still needing a green jacket to complete the career Grand Slam.
With no player other than McIlroy closer than five shots to Reed’s 54-hole lead, all Reed needed to do to win was hang around par on Sunday, barring a furious finish by one of his distant challengers.
The only player to mount much of an early Sunday surge was Spieth, who was contending for the fifth straight year in the Masters. Neither of the last two tournaments in Augusta ended well for Spieth after his record-tying victory in 2015, and he came close to matching another Masters record Sunday and possibly shattering others.
Spieth began the final round nine shots behind Reed, but shot 5-under 31 on the front nine with back-to-back birdies at the first two and last holes on the nine. Spieth could have matched the front nine record of 30, but missed a short birdie putt on the seventh. He continued his birdie blitz at his nemesis hole, the par-3 12th, and pulled into a tie with Reed after birdies at 13, 15 and 16.
His birdie at the 13th could have just as easily been an eagle, but Spieth more than made up or that miss by holing a bomb on the 16th that pulled even with Reed at 14-under.
But Reed, who had bogeyed the 11th after an errant tee shot, matched Spieth’s birdie at the 12th to regain the lead. With two par 5s ahead of him, he seemed back in control of the tournament despite Spieth’s spirited surge.
Reed got a much-needed break at 13 when his second shot came up a little short, but stuck on the bank above Rae’s Creek, which had been softened a bit by rain on Saturday. Reed failed to birdie the hole, but again came right back with a clutch birdie putt at the 14th to take the lead for good.
Spieth needed a par on the 18th to tie the course record of 63, but for the second time in the tournament, clipped the tree branches left of the 18th fairway to erase any chance of a record-setting birdie. He gave himself a chance for a par, but missed an 8-footer, settling for a 64.
With Spieth all but eliminated as a contender, Fowler emerged as the last challenger to Reed. After playing his first seven holes in 1-over, Fowler was six off Reed’s lead after beginning the day five back.
Birdies at 8 and 9 kept Fowler within range, and two more at 12 and 13 got him within two of the leader. After a birdie at the 15th, Fowler needed one more to put some pressure on Reed, and got it after a beautiful approach to the 18th. His sixth birdie over the final 11 holes gave Fowler a 67 and the clubhouse lead at 14-under, one ahead of Spieth but still one behind Reed, who almost locked up his victory when he hit the hole with his birdie try from all the way across the 17th green.
Needing a par on the 18th to win, Reed hit his approach beyond the front pin just onto a ledge that made for an exceedingly fast downhill birdie putt. He left himself about three feet for par, but holed the putt for the victory, which was greeted with a mostly muffled response, considerably less demonstrative than greeted the late birdie cheers for Spieth and Fowler.
Spieth led by two after an opening 66, two in front of Matt Kuchar and Tony Finau, who hobbled around on a damaged ankle and finished the tournament in a heroic tie for 10th. Consecutive birdies at 13, 14 and 15 gave Reed a 69 and a tie for fourth.
Reed took the 36-hole lead at 135 after nine birdies, including a trio of three consecutive birdies, giving him nine for the round. His 66 was the low round of the day and put him two ahead of Marc Leishman and four in front of Henrik Stenson. McIlroy and Spieth were tied for fourth at 140.
Eagles on both back nine par-5s Saturday gave Reed a 67 and a 54-hole total of 202, with McIlroy, Fowler and Jon Rahm all firing scores of 65 to try and close the gap. Rahm wound up fourth at 277 after a final round 69. McIlroy tied for fifth at 279 with Stenson, Bubba Watson and Australian Cameron Smith, with fellow Aussie Leishman ninth at 280. Finau birdied six straight holes on the back nine for a 66 to tie Dustin Johnson for 10th at 281.
Reed, 27, advanced from 24th to 11th in the World Golf Ranking and from 25th to 5th in the FedExCup standings. His victory jumped him from ninth to first in the Ryder Cup standings, all but ensuring him a spot on this year’s squad, which will play the Europeans in Paris.
In three Ryder/Presidents Cup appearances, Reed is a combined 9-2-3, 7-1-3 in team matches with Spieth, who reportedly was the only player to volunteer to partner with him. Spieth appreciates Reed’s intensity on the course, which he first witnessed when he lost to Reed in a playoff in Greensboro in 2013.
Spieth has since returned the favor with a playoff victory over Reed in Tampa in 2015, and the two have been the No. 1 American duo in team play since their initial pairing.
Although he lost his Presidents Cup singles match last year to Louis Oosthuizen, Reed has a long established record as a match play standout, exhibited most recently in his stirring win last year over McIlroy, which he clinched with a dramatic birdie putt on the 18th.
Reed went 6-0 in match in leading Augusta State to its consecutive NCAA Championships, with his list of opponents including current PGA Tour members Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma State (twice), Florida State’s Brooks Koepka, Georgia Tech’s Chesson Hadley and Georgia’s Harris English in the match that decided the 2011 championship. He also reached the semifinals in the 2008 U.S. Amateur prior to his enrollment at UGA.
The first time Reed attracted attention as a pro came in 2012, when he successfully Monday qualified six times for PGA Tour events and played in total of12 tournaments that year, making seven cuts with four top-25 finishes. He earned his PGA Tour card for 2013 at Q-school, and has been a top player since his rookie season, which was highlighted by his playoff win over Spieth.
Reed ended his rookie season 22nd in the FedExCup standings, but failed to qualify for the Tour Championship, the only time he has not been in the field at East Lake. He ended the regular season in the top 10 each of the next three years and wound up third in the final standings in 2016 after a Playoffs victory in New York. He was 38th at the end of the season last year before moving up to 22nd by the end of the Playoffs.
Among Reed’s six PGA Tour titles are the WGC event at Doral in 2014 and the 2015 Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. His win in the Masters was worth $1.98 million and boosted his career earnings to over $20 million.