There are tournament Sundays, and then there are Masters Tournament Sundays, and never the two shall meet. The 82nd Masters commenced with incredible hype, then somehow managed to measure up. Sundays at Augusta National Golf Club do that.
On a cool and crisp Georgia afternoon, several of the game’s biggest guns made spirited runs at Patrick Reed, but one by one, he turned them away. Reed, 27, who spent his last two college years at Augusta University, not all that far as the crow flies from Augusta National’s 12th green, was too stubborn to back down, capturing his first major championship by one stroke over Rickie Fowler (67) and by two over Jordan Spieth (64). Reed finished at 15-under 273, becoming Augusta’s fourth consecutive first-time major champion (following Spieth, Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia). All four of the game’s majors are now held by players 27 or younger.
Spieth is only 24, lest we forget, but he’s already built a highly impressive record at this Tournament. He shot 270 to win in 2015 at age 21, and he keeps on giving himself chances, even as most counted him out on Sunday.
Starting nine shots behind Reed, Spieth kept his head down, never glanced at a leader board, and just kept making birdies. There would be nine in all. With a 33-foot curler for birdie at No. 16, he pulled next to Reed at 14-under. Spieth went to No. 18 needing one more birdie to shoot a Masters-record 62 – instead, his drive hugging the left side clipped a limb and kicked straight right, and he made bogey. If it’s ever possible to be disappointed with a Sunday 64, this was the rare time.
“I’m kind of glad he ran out of holes,” Reed said.
Said Spieth, “With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible. But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
Reed had set out to become the first player in Masters history to shoot four rounds in the 60s, but a final-round, 1-under 71 delivered what he came for: a champion’s Green Jacket. Fowler, 29, also seeking his first major, kept pressure on Reed until the end, making one last birdie at 18 (from 7 feet) to pull within a shot. His solo-second finish marked Fowler’s best showing at a major. He shot 65-67 on the weekend.
This was Reed’s fifth visit to the Masters, and he’d never finished better than a tie for 22nd. Early-week prognostications involved mostly names such as Rory McIlroy, Spieth, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. There wasn’t much Reed mixed in.
Reed had won five regular PGA Tour events, and transforms into a true force of nature when playing for U.S. national teams. But he didn’t gain his first top-10 at a major until last summer, in his 16th start. His quest in Augusta was solving the riddle.
“I put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I tried so hard to hit the perfect shots. This week, I said, ‘Hey, it’s golf. Go play. Be you.’ … I was able to stay in that mindset the entire week.”
Reed began the day with a three-shot lead, and McIlroy, playing alongside, appeared ready to erase it in two holes. McIlroy made a great par save at No. 1 (Reed bogeyed) and stuffed a shot to 4 feet for eagle at the par-5 No. 2, where Reed was settling for par. But McIlroy’s putt slid past, as several others would, and McIlroy, though he birdied the rugged par-3 No. 4, never did find his game. He struggled with the putter and bowed out early, shooting 74, tying for fifth. The career grand slam will await until at least next spring.
Reed had torn up Augusta’s par-5 holes over the first three rounds, but he played those holes even on Sunday and had to do his scoring elsewhere. He made the long putt at 12 and fed a slick 7-footer into the hole for birdie at 14. After that, it was all about hanging on. He knocked in a 4-footer for par at 18 and victory belonged to him.
Kessler Karain, Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law, describes Reed as “fierce” and harbored confidence that Reed would finally break through. Reed and Spieth finished 1-2 in birdies (Reed had 22 to Spieth’s 21) and Reed was third in strokes gained: putting.
“What can I say?” Karain said, smiling. “He’s good under pressure.”
Tiger Woods, making his first Masters appearance as a competitor since 2015, shot 69 and tied for 32nd; Phil Mickelson, 47, closed with 67 and tied for 36th.
Reed’s victory culminated a rich and full week at Augusta National. Last Sunday, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship for youths was staged for the fifth time. And Wednesday, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley announced plans for the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship next year leading into Tournament week.
Of course, when the annual Champions Dinner begins, there’ll be a new man to lead it. Patrick Reed, major champion. He likes the sound of that.
“He’s a member of the Masters club now,” Spieth said of his Ryder Cup teammate. “He’ll have a Green Jacket forever, and his name is etched in history.”
Not that anyone made it easy.