AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed missed the memo. Maybe we all did. A galactic Masters was to unfold in Spring 2018, and we were due an iconic winner. Maybe Rory McIlroy for the career slam. Perhaps Jordan Spieth’s second. Or Phil Mickelson’s fourth. Or even Rickie Fowler’s first. Those were all massive storylines, yes, but Reed’s 15-under 273 shattered them all as his first top-10 finish at the Masters also resulted in a green jacket.
It didn’t start well on Sunday. Reed took a three-stroke lead over McIlroy into the final round and hit his first drive of the day up against a tree down the left-hand side of No. 1. A punched iron landed in a bunker, and he hit the skull-iest sand shot anyone at Augusta National has heard since last year’s media lottery Monday. Two-putt par, and the train lacked coal. McIlroy had an eagle putt on No. 2 that would have tied it, and Reed looked like he’d wilt.
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He rebounded with birdies at Nos. 3 and 7 as McIlroy faltered, and Reed took a three-shot lead over Spieth, who went out in 31 and shot a shocking 64 in the final round. A bogey at No. 11 dropped Reed to 13 under, and the chase was officially on with Spieth and Fowler suddenly stirring.
“I always, always watch leaderboards, no matter what event it is,” said Reed. “Whether it’s the first hole on Thursday or the last hole on Sunday. For some reason … I always want to know where I stand.”
Where he stood when he looked at Amen Corner was at the very top of a constellation of supernovas. Major champion after major champion looking up at Reed, watching him try to win his first.
After a bogey on No. 11, Reed birdied two of the tougher holes on the second nine (Nos. 12 and 14) and knew he likely only needed to par home for the win. The last two pars were the toughest. They always are. Reed hit the stick from 90 feet on No. 17 and punctuated a five-foot saver with a hammer pump. Ahead of him Fowler was busy making birdie at No. 18 to pull within one, and Reed had questions to answer at the last.
“To hear that roar on the last, even though I knew Jon [Rahm] was in the group, I just knew it had to be Rickie,” said Reed. More fuel. “It definitely wasn’t easy today. I knew it was going to be a dogfight. It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it. 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?'”
An overcooked second at the last left him a slippery 30-footer. Two putts for the most important victory of his life. He made the one coming back, and one of the more anticipated Masters in history had officially been swiped by one of the biggest antagonists of his generation.
Reed’s game plan for the week emulated his hero, the man he literally fashions himself after, Tiger Woods. He played into the top 10 on Thursday before going ballistic on Friday and Saturday with a 6-under 66 and 5-under 67, consecutively. The field had to expend themselves too much emotionally and mentally on Sunday, and Reed’s burly stiff arm kept them all at bay.
Pars aren’t sexy, but they win green jackets when you electrify in Rounds 1-3. Still, he had to go deeper into the well than he thought he would. That’s always the case for first-timers, but the fact that he actually did it was kind of astounding.
“[Sunday was] harder than I thought it was going to be,” said Reed. “Today was probably the hardest mentally a round of golf could possibly be.”
The 27-year-old has won six times on the PGA Tour including Augusta, but he still knew he was the dog on the weekend. The roar for him at the first tee on Sunday drowned in the tidal wave of cheers for playing partner McIlroy. Reed leveraged a crowd that certainly was not lining up to carry him off the 18th green in jubilation. The muted noise at No. 1 was bookended by the quietest title-winning putt I’ve ever heard at Augusta National on the 18th. In between those two noises, Reed thrived because this is what he does. This is what he loves.
“When I step up here, I was going in with a Sunday lead, listening to all the analysts this morning when I was watching golf, and every single one of them picked Rory besides [analyst] Notah [Begay],” said Reed. “Thanks, Notah. Appreciate it. You’re my boy.
“It’s just kind of one of those things that seemed like the pressure at that point was kind of lifted off. No one expects me to go out and win. Seemed like everyone else was saying how great I was playing all week, how very impressed they were, but come Saturday night and Sunday morning, they are like, ‘Oh, well, even though we said all these great things about how he’s playing, we think Rory’s going to win.'”
We probably should be surprised Reed won the Masters (he’d never had a round in the 60s here, and this year he had three!), but we should not be surprised he won this tournament. With so much buildup and so much hype, it was his show to steal. It could not be more fitting that a tournament tinging with titans of industry was taken by a man who not only considers himself a part of their club, but now actually is.
It’s hard to overstate how tilted the Sunday galleries were away from Reed. They cheered him, yes, tepidly, but only because they had to. He knew this. And it fueled him. So, of course Patrick Reed won a monumental Masters with everyone on the property backing a different horse. He took the pre-tournament hype, his own poor performance here and a Sunday crowd rolling with Rory and bottled them up into his own energy drink.
“I walked up to the first tee and had a really welcoming cheer from the fans,” said Reed. “But then when Rory walked up to the tee, you know, his cheer was a little louder. That’s another thing that just kind of played into my hand. Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off of me and adds it back to him.
“I just kind of went out there and just tried to play golf the best I could and tried to stay in the moment and not worry about everything else.”
One of several takeaways I had from a bonkers Masters Sunday (aren’t they all, though) was what happened at No. 6. It was a forgettable hole, a throwaway. Reed made bogey, and McIlroy, who would soon fall off the board, had a 9-footer for par. But when he canned it, a gallery that had felt reserved all weekend stood simultaneously and punched the air with their roar. That might have been for Rory or against Reed, I don’t know. But I know how Reed took it.
It felt like the 2018 Masters started at that moment. Reed’s response was to play the next 12 holes in 2 under and take home a 44 regular at the end of the night. The script-flipping American rode himself home after a week of, “Yeah, but …” narratives that involved Reed finishing T7 or T11. He didn’t, though. He stood in the fire on a Sunday afternoon with Spieth and Fowler and McIlroy taking apart his foundation at a place where the fire burns hotter than he’s ever felt it before.
Sometimes “the world is against them” sports trope is a pseudo-narrative that a coach gets his players to believe. It motivates them, but it’s not actually true. It’s laughable when Duke, Alabama, the Patriots or the Yankees say, “The world didn’t believe we’d get it done. Nobody picked us!” Actually, they did.
With Reed, it kind of was true. He’s not the living legend. He’s not the sparkling storyline. He seems OK with that, though. That’s how it’s always been with him — including Sunday when he donned the green jacket.