• Despite having the lead going into the final round, Reed wasn't favored to win the Masters. That seemed to motivate him until the final putt for his first major win.
By Michael Rosenberg
April 08, 2018

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The crowd was deserting him. Patrick Reed knew it. He was on the 14th hole in the final round of the tournament of his life, and nobody seemed to care. The crowd was six-deep around the nearby 17th green, where Jordan Spieth was threatening to break the Masters single-round record of 63 and win his second green jacket. Any fan watching Spieth could turn around and have a clear view of Reed on the 14th green. That’s how empty it was.

Well, golf is a lonely game sometimes. Maybe this is why Reed is so damn good at it. He doesn’t need—or even seem to want—your approval. He watched the Golf Channel on Sunday morning and saw “every single one of them except Notah Begay” pick Rory McIlroy to win, even though Reed had a three-stroke lead. This fired him up. He noticed on the first hole that fans were cheering louder for McIlroy. This fired him up more.

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You remember McIlroy, don’t you? Four-time major champion, endorsement king, charming fellow. Well, on Saturday night, McIlroy had talked about how “all the pressure” was on Reed, and “he’s got that to deal with and sleep on tonight,” and he reminded Reed, through the media, that “I’ve been able to close the deal a few times before this.” So basically, McIlroy spent a few minutes Saturday night playing mind games with Reed, and Reed spent four hours Sunday putting McIlroy in detention.

McIlroy went out Sunday and rubbed a 74 all over his face. He was out of the tournament for basically the whole back nine. He played lousy golf on the wrong day, which happens, but he made another mistake, too: He misjudged Patrick Reed. As Rickie Fowler said afterward, “Patrick, he’s not scared. I don’t necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back in the tournament. You have to go catch him.”

This is why Fowler stepped on the course Sunday at nine under par and knew it wasn’t good enough. Reed was 14 under. Fowler figured he had to get to at least 14 under to have a chance. He did, too, thanks to a birdie on 18. Still, it wasn’t enough.

Spieth knew what Fowler knew: Patrick Reed was not going backward. Spieth started the day nine strokes back, but by the time Reed got to the 9th hole, Spieth was only two shots back. Reed is an inveterate leaderboard-watcher; he knew what Spieth had done.

“I’m going ‘OK, now it’s really getting tight,’” Reed said. “You start thinking about what-ifs.”

Spieth and Fowler were on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with Reed. They know what he is made of. All day Sunday, even as the leaderboard constricted, there was no indication that Reed would fold. Sure, he hit a few errant shots. But he never panicked. He said afterward that there was only one shot all day when he was not fully committed to what he was doing—his approach on No. 13, which settled on the bank in front of the green. But even then, he had the right idea. When Reed reached the 15th hole and caddie Kessler Karain suggested laying up, it was an easy conversation. Reed laid up.

If you thought Reed would yank his drive on the final hole and hand the Masters to Spieth, you had it backward. It was Spieth who found the trees and made bogey there—his first of the day.

When it was over, Spieth immediately left the scoring area to talk to the media. What was there to say? He needed to throw a perfect game and he threw a one-hitter instead. He did not look up at the leaderboard until his 64 was complete.

“It’s no surprise to me that Patrick, who was most likely going to win majors in his career, was able to do it from the lead,” said Spieth, who kept his Saturday night lead when he won in 2015, then blew his Saturday night lead a year later. “I mean, it’s very difficult to sleep on the lead Sunday at Augusta—especially a three- or four-shot lead.”

Spieth finished his interview, gracious as always, and moments later Rickie Fowler had to play the role Rickie Fowler always seems to play: nice guy who didn’t finish first. He waited outside the scoring area, placed balls in a small red and black pouch, put on a wristwatch and waited for Reed. Before the Masters champion could sign his scorecard, the Masters runner-up clapped, smiled and hugged him. Then Fowler turned around and the smile disappeared. This sucked. Fowler is too nice to say it, too determined to be happy for his Ryder Cup teammate. But it sucked.

Meanwhile, McIlroy spoke to the international media. His answers were filled with words and phrases that no golfer wants to use, like “frustrating” and “it’s hard to take any positives” and “tough day.” He told an Augusta National Golf Club member he would not stop again for the American print media. Well, he had said enough for one weekend.

When Fowler sat down in the interview room at the media center, he looked around at the empty seats and said, “There’s no one here.” It was a joke, but one that stung the guy who made it. Fowler then said, “I guess I have to win to get more people.”

Fowler really did think this would be his week. He has finished in the top five of a major eight times now. But he said this was the first time he really knew he could do it. His only problem was that the guy in front of him could do it, too. Reed knew after he birdied the 14th hole that Spieth had bogeyed No. 18, and he figured, “As long as there weren’t any catastrophic explosions going in, it was going to be between Rickie and I.” Reed parred the last four holes. It may have been the first time in his life he took the excitement out of golf.

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Masters history is full of Sundays that could pull teardrops out of the most emotionally stunted sports fans: Augusta native Larry Mize chipping in to win in 1987; Ben Crenshaw winning in 1995 just days after his beloved teacher Harvey Penick died; Tiger Woods blowing away the field in 1997 and thanking the black golfers who broke the sport’s color barriers; Jack Nicklaus shooting a back-nine 30 to win the 1986 Masters at age 46.

Reed attended Augusta State, but this is not one of those stories. He transferred to Augusta State because he was kicked off the team at Georgia. (Official reasons were never given; rumors about cheating during practice rounds and stealing from teammates have been circulated widely.) He declared himself one of the world’s top five players long before his claim could be taken seriously.

He was asked Saturday why so many people don’t like him, and he said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask them?” 

Reed is a handful—brash and easy to dislike if you are so inclined. But he does not aim to please. He aims to win. Fowler said Reed has always been a great match-play player, even as a kid, and Spieth said, “Everybody really likes battling Patrick, because he loves it so much and eats it up.” Reed actually slept on the lead for two straight nights. Spieth said his only regret from the week was that he wasn’t paired with Reed, “to be able to kind of fire back and forth.” Be careful what you wish for, Jordan. Ask Rory.

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