By Cheryl Handlesman
Around Augusta National Golf Club, Patrick Reed wasn’t the public’s choice to win the Masters.
Or anyone else’s!
Rory McIlroy was the superstar chasing the career grand slam. Jordan Spieth was the golden child chasing a historic comeback. Rickie Fowler was the fan favorite striving for his first major title.
What Reed won over all of them on yesterday was not widespread affection. It was respect.
The 27-year-old from Texas held off a loaded leaderboard below him to win the Masters, finishing at 15 under par to claim his first career major title. Fowler finished one shot back, coming oh-so-close at yet another major. Spieth shot a 64 to charge back after starting the day nine shots off the lead but finished third, at 13 under.
McIlroy, who was in the final pairing with Reed, finished with a disappointing 74 and remains without a major championship since 2014.
“We did everything we could,” Fowler said. “Patrick went out there and outplayed all of us.”
In 2014 Reed drew ridicule for declaring himself one of the five best players in the world. This was before he had even appeared in a major championship.
His brashness made him a favorite at the 2016 Ryder Cup, where he led the U.S. to victory. But the courteous applause he received here paled in comparison to the roars directed at his chief rivals.
When Reed left the practice green for the first tee, he hugged his wife, Justine, and was mostly left alone. Then McIlroy followed to a huge ovation, high-fiving a stream of people along the way.
“His cheer was a little louder,” Reed said. “But that’s another thing that played into my hand. Not only did that fuel my fire a little bit. It takes the pressure off of me and takes it back to him.”
Reed has long thrived with a me-against-the-world mentality, even when it is as much his own creation as a reflection of reality. During his post-tournament news conference, his green jacket still fresh on his shoulders, Reed dutifully noted that most television analysts picked others to win Sunday, even as he teed off with a three-shot lead. He even named the one analyst who picked him. But the role suits Reed.
“No one expects me to go out and win,” he said. “I expect me to go out and win.”
A native of San Antonio, Reed in 2015 became just the fourth player in the last two decades to win four times on the PGA Tour before his 25th birthday. He tied for second at last year’s PGA Championship and had three top-10 finishes leading up to the Masters.
“It’s been kind of a major championship hump that he’s had to get over and play the way he knows how to play,” Spieth said. “It was kind of a matter of time.”
On the 16th hole, Spieth sank a 33-foot birdie putt to grab a share of the lead. A historic comeback was within reach: No golfer has ever rallied from more than eight shots down on the final day to win the Masters.
When the leaderboard near the 18th hole was updated to show Spieth at 14 under par, the crowd gathered around the green erupted in celebration. But Spieth’s hopes dwindled with a bogey on the 18th hole, where his tee shot was knocked down by a tree branch.
Fowler added more late pressure on Reed by making birdie on the 17th hole to cut his lead to one. But the Reed meltdown some people were waiting for never came. He got on the 18th green in two shots and easily two-putted for the win, finishing with a final-round 71.
Fowler began the day five shots back. At age 29, he has been around long enough that he barely qualifies as one of the game’s young stars anymore. He has been a regular presence near the top of major leaderboards, with nine top-10 finishes. But at some point, when a player fails to win a major for long enough, people stop asking when it will happen.