Patrick Reed, the newest Masters champion after a one-shot victory over Rickie Fowler, is now certifiably sound and sane in the golf sense. His previous lapses in major tournaments will now be viewed as a temporary part of his development through his 20s, not a permanent part of his competitive character that might dog him for many years.
The 27-year-old from Spring, Tex., passed all of Augusta’s tests with burly, jut-jawed determination and emotional resiliency, shooting a grinding, clutch 1-under-par 71 to finish at 15-under 273. Every time he was challenged on this birdie-drenched afternoon of sun and constant celebrations, he responded.
When the brilliant Jordan Spieth (64), playing several holes ahead, pulled into a tie at 14 under, Reed birdied his next hole, the 14th, to take the lead back at 15 under. Then he made pars to the house and never relinquished that slimmest margin.
When Fowler, his U.S. Ryder Cup teammate who shot 65-67 on the weekend, posted his final 14-under-par score, Reed faced down one last 3 1/2- foot putt on the 18th green for the win — exactly the kind of putt, and the same length, that has been missed here to lose green jackets by a shot for decades.
“It was tough out there. To have to make par at 18, a hole that’s given me trouble in the past, and to make that last putt to win my first major — it definitely felt right,” Reed said. “I actually mis-hit my first putt. For it to go 3½ feet past . . . well, I’m just lucky I’ve had that putt before.”
Reed wasn’t even distracted by the collapse of his popular rival, Rory McIlroy, who, on Saturday night, had put out quotes about how “all the pressure is on Reed” and that Reed would have to “sleep on the lead” while thinking about all the “big-time players” right behind him.
McIlroy started the day in second place, three shots behind Reed, but was undone by the Masters for the 10th straight year, missing putts of four, six, four, six, eight and five feet on the first 11 holes. Now it’s Rory who has the Jinx Event to cope with.
To say that golf is the most psychological of all major games is so commonplace that it sometimes seems the question ought to be: Among the greatest players, all of them within tiny fractions of a stroke per round of each other in average score, is golf anything but psychology?”
No. But in Reed’s case Sunday, it was coming close — at least according to him.
“In majors before this, I put too much pressure on myself. I tried so hard. I decided, ‘Just be you. If you get a little riled up out there, that’s okay,’ ” Reed said.
This past week, Reed put himself in charge of self-analysis. He asked himself, “When am I going to get out of my own way?” Why was he always fixated on “what’s at stake. The greens are so fast and sloppy. You can’t do this. You can’t do that.
“In the end, the biggest thing was not getting psyched out by everything.”
At the first tee, Reed enjoyed a warm cheer. But then the roar for the popular McIlroy was much louder. Yes, the same McIlroy whom Reed had beaten in a vital Ryder Cup match that helped the United States prevail in 2016. Those Sunday cheers for the player from Northern Ireland, not Reed, “kind of fueled my fire a little bit,” the victor said. “The pressure lifted.”
They pick Rory. They cheer for Rory. What am I, chubby?
“The more chatter you have in your ear about expectations, the harder it is to play golf,” said Reed, who, despite his three-stroke lead, had found a way to make himself the underdog.
As much as weight has been lifted from Reed, more baggage has been added to the personable McIlroy. This event has him trapped in a small, dark, scary place, and he needs help to get out. Long ago, at age 21, the place humiliated him with a back-nine 43 as he blew a four-shot lead. Each year, the torment just gets worse. All week, he said he couldn’t play better. He made clear how much this was the year to get his Masters revenge. Then he collapsed on a day when many shot lights out, including a 67 by Phil Mickelson.
“Just wasn’t meant to be . . . frustrating . . . hard to take positives from it right now. . . . I just didn’t quite have it today,” McIlroy said.
Don’t worry, Rory. Let’s have another therapy session next week.
Aside from Reed, the player who may have gained the most from this Masters was Fowler, who has come close in several majors but never really gives off the sense that he can finish the job. Turns out, he has felt that way about himself, too. But on Saturday, feeling lousy, everything going against him, he dug down, fought and “just gutted it out.” To his amazed delight, he shot a 65.
“This [week] feels a lot different [than other near misses],” Fowler said. “I am ready to go win a major. This was kind of the first major week that I understood that and known that and felt that. Previously I was still feeling the nerves, dealing with rough rounds or things not going your way.”
Then, calmly, as if looking at an insight about himself, the 29-year-old Fowler said, “So I’m ready to go.”
When this final Masters day began, Reed was the player on the couch of every amateur shrink who owns a golf glove. Was he an inspired, creative adrenaline junkie suited to team match play, such as the Ryder Cup, but not equipped with the kind of course management and self-control needed in medal play?
Could he hold on to win the event that he has cherished his whole life, on a course he practically worships and in the town where he played college golf and won two national titles? Because of his honesty after his win, we now know that Reed was bedeviled by very similar questions.
Now he has clarity. He’s a major champion.
“Mentally, that’s the hardest a round of golf can be,” Reed said. “Now, no matter what they throw at me, I know I can do this. . . . It’s awesome and satisfying.”