Patrick Reed has lived his life publicly for less than a year, and in that time he appears to shrink from nothing, consequences be damned. Not his own confidence level, burgeoning and on display. Not his responsibilities as a 23-year-old new father, what with his wife and baby in tow. And not from Congressional Country Club, which baked in the sun of a Saturday afternoon, making par a pal, bogey inevitable.
The next chapter of Reed’s introduction to the golfing public will come Sunday afternoon, when he will play in the final group in the final round of the Quicken Loans National, because he holds a two-shot lead. He is not bothered in the least by this development.
“If I were to choose,” Reed said, “I’d definitely be in the last group.”
Rough translation: Look at me, and watch what I can do.
On a dry-as-the-desert day in which Congressional bared all its teeth — the kind of day the U.S. Golf Association yearned for three years ago, when it staged the U.S. Open on what was then a soggy course — Reed did nothing more than shoot an even-par 71 to remain at 6 under, precisely where he woke up Saturday. And yet instead of being tied with three others in the lead, he was alone, clear of Australia’s Marc Leishman (73), Sweden’s Freddie Jacobson (71) and South Korea’s Seung-yul Noh (best-of-the-day 66) by two.
“That was one of those days that we were able to grind it out,” Reed said.
Tiger Woods is no longer here, at his own tournament, because he missed the cut Friday. But enter a player who busts forth with a Tiger-like swagger, an attitude that will be highlighted Sunday when he breaks out a blood-red shirt. Reed is not as famous for the three PGA Tour victories he has accumulated since last fall as he is for what he said after the most recent, a wire-to-wire win over a packed field at Doral.
As he ticked off his list of accomplishments in a television interview after he won, Reed built to the only conclusion he could draw, and the words tumbled from his mouth: “I’m one of the top five players in the world.” Players couldn’t help but take notice.
“It created a little buzz,” said Leishman, a workaday pro whose one PGA Tour victory came in 2012. “That’s not something I would say, but you know, everyone’s different. Good on him for thinking that.”
Three-and-a-half months later, Reed can’t quite escape the remarks — though, in fairness, he’s given no indication that he wants to. Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, each with two major championships to his credit, have jabbed Reed at news conferences. Karma and a brand-new daughter followed, and he hasn’t finished better than 35th — and has missed five cuts — since Doral. But he said Saturday he has encountered no problematic reactions.
“I haven’t had anything negative said from the guys out here,” Reed said. “They all believe in themselves that they are one of the top players. You have to. You can’t play this game with a lack of confidence.”
It was a quality that was desperately needed Saturday. Never, in the 14 PGA Tour events held at Congressional dating back to 1980, has a higher score in relation to par led after 54 holes. Conditions were such — breezy, with no rain to soften the course — that after Shawn Stefani teed off at 11:40 a.m. and eased his way to a 68, only one of the 26 players who followed broke par. That group, ostensibly those playing best at the moment, averaged nearly 74 for the day.
“What I’ve said all week that I enjoy about this golf course is that par is often a good score,” said England’s Justin Rose, who shot an even-par 71 and moved up the board, three shots behind Reed. “And it became a really good score this afternoon.”
So the faint-hearted began falling. No fault of, say, Oliver Goss, the 20-year-old product of both Australia and the University of Tennessee who was playing in his second event as a professional. When he arrived here, a security guard didn’t believe he was a player. Saturday, he played in the final group — and acted as if he were a 20-year-old in his second event as a pro. He missed a two-and-a-half footer for par at the second and never really recovered in a 76.
He wasn’t alone. Ricky Barnes, though without a PGA Tour win, has been in this position far more frequently than Goss, and shared the lead as well. His card Saturday: no birdies, and 75. Leishman had unleashed a bogey-free 66 on Friday, yet made just one birdie Saturday in his 73. As he worked his way through the back nine Saturday, Leishman said to his caddie, “It feels a bit like a U.S. Open.”
Reed likely expects to win one of those some day, too. But the task in front of him is just this week, just Congressional. He has one idol when it comes to confidence, to carriage: Woods.
“I mean, every time he walks, every time he speaks or anything he does on the golf course, he looks like he’s confident in himself,” Reed said. “And he works hard at it.”
There is one more day of work left. When it is over, if Reed is standing on the 18th green receiving his trophy, there will be as much focus on what he says about his accomplishment as on the accomplishment itself.