By Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post
For a guy who loves to wrap himself in the American flag, wearing a green jacket fits too.
Patrick Reed’s one-stroke victory at Augusta did what major championship victories are meant to do – change the career narrative.
In Reed’s case, his Captain America persona from the Ryder Cup has defined him. Until now.
Winning the first major of the year and the way he did it, building a three-stroke lead after 54 holes, then holding off what felt like an avalanche of fast-closing challengers on Sunday, wasn’t constructed on emotion but on grit and a putting stroke for which Rory McIlroy might pay millions.
Down the road, what looks on paper like a one-stroke win ahead of Rickie Fowler and a two-shot edge on Jordan Spieth won’t fully convey how hard Reed was pushed to finish off a tournament that he took control of Friday afternoon.
He first had to spar with McIlroy, then try to outrace Spieth, and finally beat Fowler to the finish line.
Needing to par the 18th hole to win, Reed ran his downhill 20-foot birdie putt past the hole, leaving himself nearly 4 feet for a green jacket.
“Just to watch the ball go in the hole to finally win my first major and to end the drought of not winning last year and to do it in the first major (of 2018), it just meant so much to me,” Reed said.
Reed shot 69-66-67-71 to finish at 15-under-par 273 but did not become the first player to shoot four rounds in the 60s at the Masters.
Having never broken 70 in four previous starts at Augusta, Reed was a different player at Augusta National this time with a simple mantra.
“Just play golf,” he said.
It was a rambunctious Sunday, the kind of final round that has painted the history of Augusta.
Meanwhile, McIlroy was the day’s biggest disappointment, his putter undercutting his chance to complete the career Grand Slam.
Through it all, Reed kept going about his business. It didn’t come as easily as it did the first three days but he had never been in this position before, trying to close out his first major championship victory.
Reed did it the hard way Sunday. After playing the par-5s in 13-under par through the first three rounds, Reed didn’t birdie any of the four on Sunday.
He made his four final-round birdies with a wedge or short-iron approaches at Nos. 3, 7, 12 and 14, an uncommon path of picking up strokes. But Reed’s strengths, beyond his aggressive competitiveness, is how his game gets better the closer he gets to the hole.
When Reed needed to make something happen in the final round, he seemed to always find a way.
He holed a birdie putt at the third from the back fringe that stalled McIlroy’s early charge. He hit a beautiful wedge shot to tap-in range for a birdie at No. 7. His second shot into the par-5 13th green, a 7-iron he hit fat, stayed on the bank rather than rolling back into the hazard. Leading by one, Reed center-cut a 5-foot par putt on the 17th green, allowing him to go to the final hole needing a 4 to win.
“It’s very difficult to start from the lead Sunday at Augusta, especially a three- or four-shot lead, because as much as he wanted to put the pressure back on Roryy, that is where the pressure is. You are expected to win,” Spieth said.
“And that’s a very difficult thing to sleep on. And he came out and obviously played a fantastic last seven holes from what I saw to win his first major.”
What set up as a major championship reprise of the spectacular singles match Reed and McIlroy played in the 2016 Ryder Cup never developed because McIlroy never fully engaged. It wasn’t as disappointing as his final-round collapse her in 2011 but McIlroy fizzled at the end, shooting 74.
It didn’t start that way. A bogey by Reed at No. 1 trimmed McIlroy’s deficit to two. When McIlroy floated a gorgeous second shot within 5 feet of the hole at the par-5 second, he had an eagle putt to tie. He missed right, a tendency that haunted him Sunday, and McIlroy’s day seemed to die when he bogeyed the short third after Reed fist-pumped a birdie putt from the back fringe into the hole.
Reed led by four at the turn, and as if to reconfirm the old adage that the Masters doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday, it played out that way.
On Thursday evening, there was an early sense that Spieth might be on his way to a second victory at Augusta. He opened with 66 and given his extraordinary record at Augusta Nationa, it felt as if Spieth might roll through the weekend.
But he started double bogey-bogey on Friday and spent the final two rounds in a scoring fog. He started the final round nine behind Reed and seemingly irrelevant to the outcome.
Soon enough, Spieth was at the center of the story, bringing the improbable into play. When he ripped a hybrid second shot from the pine straw to within 20 feet of the hole at the par-5 13th, he was on a scent of a historic comeback.
Spieth said he did not look at a leaderboard until after he finished his round, focusing solely on making as many birdies as he could, then seeing where it left him.
“Every shot was important coming down the stretch. I knew I had to get it deeper and deeper,” Spieth said.
His comeback might have been completed had it not been for the tee shot he pulled at the par-4 18th. It’s a demanding shot, played through a chute of trees, and Spieth’s driver clipped a limb barely 100 yards off the tee on the left, knocking his ball down short of the fairway.
He gave himself a putt of about 8 feet for a par there, trying to become the first player in Augusta history to shoot 63 in the final round and force Reed to finish at 15-under par or better. Spieth’s putt missed on the left side, ending his chance.
“I’m pretty gutted at the finish,” Spieth said.
Fowler, still chasing his first major championship, shot 65-67 on the weekend and when he birdied the 18th hole, it forced Reed to make a par to win.
“It’s going to hurt, but I try and look at the things kind of more the glass half-full,” Fowler said. “Obviously I want to be the one standing on top after the four rounds, but this is – if anything, it’s a step forward and makes me feel better about going forward into our next major, the U.S. Open. It’s going to be fun. I feel like this is a year to knock our first.”
Driver: Ping G400 LST (10 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rogue Silver 70X
3 Wood: Nike VR Pro Ltd. Edition (15 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rogue Silver 80X
Driving Iron: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-iron)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold 120 X100
Irons: Callaway X Forged 2013 (4 iron), Callaway MB-1 (5-PW)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Putter: Odyssey White Hot Pro 3
Grip: Iomic Standard Red Pistol
Golf Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Republished with permission from Global Golf Post