Captain America Masters All
AUGUSTA, GA._ Until the start of the 82nd Masters the name Patrick Reed was more synonymous with team play competition — showing his stature as “Captain America” in recent Ryder and President’s Cup Matches in linking raw emotion with vintage clutch play. But his solo career, while good at times, paled against the likes of fellow contemporaries such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas Only at last year’s PGA Championship did Reed earn his first top ten finish in a major championship finishing two strokes behind winner Thomas.
For the 27-year-old winning his first major championship has now changed the conversation in a big time way. Reed fended off a host of challengers — most notably Spieth, who closed with a 64 but had to endure a crushing bogey at the 18th, and another surging contemporary in Rickie Fowler who birdied the final hole forcing Reed to par the final hole in order to claim the green jacket with a one-stroke victory.
Before winning this year’s Masters, Reed’s PGA Tour career featured five wins — but in five previous visits to Augusta he had never finished in the top 20 and that included two missed cuts. Until this year’s event — he had never broken 70 in a competitive round. After turning professional in 2011 — Reed made it a point to boast after winning just his third professional win at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral that he was among the top five players in the world. That bit of self promotion did not earn him points among his fellow professional brethren. Even when pressed by media, Reed declined to walk back his belief in himself.
Seen as a talented player but one who talked more than he delivered, that viewpoint began to change with Reed’s stellar play during team competitions — most notably at the 2014 and 2016 Ryder Cup Matches. Reed became the emotional catalyst — executing at crucial moments time after time. In those two matches Reed has suffered only one loss — while earning 7 points. His most epic victory was the mano a mano defeat of McIlroy in the lead off singles match at the ’16 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National which became the catalyst in leading the USA team to its first win in the event since 2008.
Interestingly, Reed was paired with McIlroy for this year’s final round at Augusta and after the Ulsterman fired a 65 on Saturday to draw within three shots the makings for a rematch of the scintillating golf the two had produced in ’16 looked inevitable. Unfortunately, McIlroy’s balky putter re-emerged and he faded with a final round 74 and a tie for 5th. The missed four-foot putt for eagle at the 2nd was the start of his downfall. McIlroy had indicated he was ready to best Reed with his post 3rd round comments but those words failed to materialize in any meaningful action on the last round. The glory of a career Grand Slam will have wait another year for Rory.
Reed showed much in Friday’s second round — firing a six-under-par 66 — and establishing a two-stroke lead over Aussie Mark Leishman. Although he would be tied at certain moments — it was a lead he would never surrender.
The familiarity of the Augusta area is nothing new for him. Reed played at nearby Augusta University, leading the team to two consecutive NCAA Division I team titles. In previous tournaments it was common for Reed to wear his favored red golf shirt for a Sunday final round. Following the footsteps of another golfer, Tiger Woods, who made the color red his calling card when winning numerous events. Reed eschewed the color for the final round and won while wearing pink.
Closing out a major championship when leading entering the final round is the hardest test for any professional golfer. One’s ultimate standing in the game is based primarily on the wherewithal to perform at golf’s grandest stages. Reed demonstrated much with his 1st major championship title. Reed bogied the opening hole on his final round — but a crucial birdie at the always dangerous short par-4 3rd provided a much needed boost. Reed helped himself time after time in making needed putts after showing signs of a possible stumble. Following a bogey at the most demanding par-4 11th, Reed bounced back and birdied the devilish short par-3 12th. At the par-5 13th Reed was most fortunate that his 2nd shot to the par-5 avoided Rae’s creek.
Reed gathered himself for the final stretch run. His birdie at the par-4 14th pushed out in front. Missing his drive to the left at the par-4 15th presented a major decision — going for the green or showing restraint. Reed opted for the latter and escaped with par. At the par-3 16th his approach was well played — leaving 18-feet for birdie. The putt missed narrowly. At the par-4 17th a missed tee shot to the right meant punching a low iron approach to the far left side of the green. From roughly 75 feet Reed once again used his putter magically. The ball ended up five feet away and he made the critical putt allowing him to come to the 18th hole with a final par to claim the green jacket. Reed found the fairway and although his approach finished above the hole he deftly two-putted to earn a hard fought victory.
Captain America had best be ready for what lies ahead. The vanquished foes at this year’s Masters will most certainly be looking for redemption. Being a real life super hero can be much harder chore than the comic book variety. For Reed the green jacket he now wears may not be the red, white and blue colors of Captain America fame, but the view from the top of the golf mountaintop he occupies now is one he’s righty relishing.