- Reed finished with a 66, and now heads into the weekend with a two-stroke lead on Marc Leishman and a four-stroke lead on everybody else.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed could not win the Masters Friday, but he had a perfect opportunity to lose it, or at least lose his lead. Reed was on the 13th hole, the first of the two famous par-5s on the Augusta National Golf Club’s back nine. His tee shot was so far to the right, the club offered it membership. Reed’s ball sat on pine straw. Trees were lined up in front of him like soccer players standing in the way of a free kick. Reed had options, but he did not seem to have good options.
He held his ungloved left hand to his forehead to block the sun. He grabbed his yardage book and walked to the fairway. He crouched. Finally, he called to his playing partner Charley Hoffman, who was standing in front of him:
“Heads up, Charley! I might be coming through that gap, bud.”
Then Reed changed his mind. He gestured in another direction and told caddie Kessler Karain, “I’m going that way.” And he did, it was perfect, and that started a run of three straight birdies—his third birdie-birdie-birdie run of the day. On a day when scoring conditions were difficult, Reed had a hat trick of hat tricks. He turned the moment that he could have lost the lead into the moment when he solidified his grip on it.
Reed finished with a 66, which will look pretty on the shelf next to his first-round 69, and now he heads into the weekend with a two-stroke lead on Marc Leishman and a four-stroke lead on everybody else. The leaderboard is loaded with better-known names: SPIETH and McILROY and D.JOHNSON and FOWLER and THOMAS. You can be sure that Reed loves seeing those names below his. No golfer of his generation has been so openly determined to move the needle.
Reed wants to be known as one of the greats to a degree that you can either find off-putting or endearing. In 2016, Reed earned some fans, at least in the United States, with the most intense duel of the Ryder Cup, a singles match against Rory McIlroy. McIlroy embraced being the villain at Hazeltine, Reed revved up the crowd with fist pumps, and Reed ultimately won the match.
Even with that victory, and even with a stint at Augusta State University on his resume, the name “Patrick Reed” still doesn’t ring every bell here. Many fans just think of him as another up-and-coming golfer if they think of him at all. He is below the Spieth/McIlroy tier of fame, of course. He has not won a major like Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas. Worse, he has never really contended like Rickie Fowler has. Reed has never finished in the top 10 of a major.
Reed played in the last group Friday, will play in the last group Saturday, and would love to play in the last group Sunday. But there is, of course, an enormous difference between Friday and Sunday. This was evident when Reed put his tee shot on the par-3 12th into the back left bunker.
As Reed walked toward the Hogan Bridge, most of the crowd at Amen Corner started picking up chairs and walking away. Reed led the Masters at the time, but fewer than half the fans stuck around to watch him save par. If Spieth were in that position, they surely would have stayed.
Reed is 27, so he has many years left to win majors. He certainly has the game to do it, and he has the short game to do it here. But is he ready to do it now?
There were signs Friday that he is. Sure, it was just the second round. But it was a difficult second round—survival day for most golfers. It was one of the windier days in recent memory at Augusta, and predicting the direction was tricky. On 18, McIlroy remarked to one of his playing partners, Adam Scott, that they had just played several straight holes downwind. That would seem to be impossible, since 13 and 15 go this-away, and 14 and 17 go that-away. But it was a strange day.
Reed navigated his way through all of it, starting with the first club he held in his hand. In past years, he has told himself all morning not to hit driver on No. 1, and then he found himself repeatedly hitting driver on No. 1. He said Friday that “I usually make a mess of that hole,” but he couldn’t help himself. He was like somebody on a diet who keeps saying “don’t eat the cake, don’t eat the cake,” but always ends up with frosting on his face.
This time, his wife, Justine, tried to convince him to hit three-wood on No. 1, and he actually listened. He birdied the first hole. (When Reed was asked if Justine often chooses clubs for him, he joked, “She should.” Maybe it wasn’t a joke. She used to be his caddie.) That is the kind of discipline he needs to carry through the weekend.
He showed his patience on No. 15, when the wait was akin to your local muni. Reed’s round lasted five hours and 45 minutes, and his group had to wait at least 10 minutes to tee off on 15. He smoked his drive down the middle of the fairway, then got there and had to wait again. There was not much to do except wait. There is only so much grass you can throw in the air.
Sometimes all it takes to derail a hot golfer is time to think. But Reed was even ready for this.
“You knew it was really going to be a long day,” Reed said. “There was lot of small talk with the rest of the group, small talk with our caddies, just trying to stay loose.”
There is no greater illusion in golf than a leaderboard at the Masters. Reed’s lead could vanish in 10 minutes Saturday, and it surely will vanish at some point. But the goal here is not to hold the lead for three rounds; it’s to hold it after the last one. Patrick Reed has always believed in Patrick Reed. Now he wants to make damn sure that you do, too.