Patrick Reed ready for first Masters

In this March 9, 2014, file photo, Patrick

In this March 9, 2014, file photo, Patrick Reed watches his shot on the 11th hole during the final round of the Cadillac Championship golf tournament in Doral, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / Wilfredo Lee

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AUGUSTA, Ga. - There is no debate about Patrick Reed's place on one list. It is a clear-cut, controversy-free fact that he is one of 24 golfers who are in the Masters for the first time. And in his mind, it still is just as certain that he belongs among the top five golfers in the world.

Reed is actually a soft-spoken, level-headed young man, not a brassy trash talker, which is the portrayal he invited last month when he brazenly wore a red shirt, black cap and black pants -- Tiger Woods' signature Sunday outfit -- for the final round at Doral, when he was trying to hold off Woods and other big names. After he won that day, Reed unashamedly said, "I'm one of the top five players in the world."

He felt no need to apologize for that comment then, or Monday, as he prepared to be a neophyte in the most celebrated golf tournament on Earth. "You know, you have to believe in yourself to be successful, and that's all it is," said the 23-year-old who has won three tournaments in the past eight months and is No. 23 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

"I believe in myself and I will hopefully continue playing well and get to that point," he said, meaning official status in the top five. As for the fallout from his self-evaluation, he added, "Michael Jordan had nothing bad to say about it; Gary Player, Henrik Stenson." He said he read that Jordan had said, "You have to believe you're one of the top players, not a top-45 player."

In any case, Reed does stand out among the 24 rookies at the Masters, which begins Thursday. Sheer geography says so.

Reed played college golf at Augusta State, helping the nearby team win two NCAA championships. During that run, he got to play Augusta National three times. "It's just like how it was today, the only difference was there wasn't severe weather," he said Monday morning, after practice rounds were halted because of thunderstorms.

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"It was misty and rainy, cold, windy. But you still get nervous stepping up on the tee whether you're an amateur playing for the first time and there's no one around or step up on the tee when there's thousands of people around."

Driving in as a Masters competitor is a galaxy removed from coming in on the team bus. "It was amazing, that's for sure," Reed said. "I wanted to reverse and do it again."

He earned his way in, having endured the hard road of Q School and Monday qualifying rounds. Once he was in a six-way playoff for two spots in a tournament field. He was the last of six to hit on the second playoff hole, and drilled it within three feet.

"To get through those kinds of things . . . you can't let doubt get in your way," he said.

There is little doubt that Reed is a standard bearer for a generation of players who are winning on the PGA Tour and getting the resulting invitations to the Masters. As fellow first-timer and recent three-time winner Jimmy Walker said, "Figuring out how to win does teach you a lot about yourself."

Jason Day, 26, who has twice come close to winning the Masters, when asked about rookies Monday, said, "They are a lot more confident, coming out and playing in their first events. You look at Patrick Reed, the way he's playing right now, he's an outstanding golfer. To win the WGC Cadillac the way he did was pretty special."

No first-timer has won the Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, so it is not likely that Reed will wear a green jacket Sunday. Then again, it wouldn't be a shock, either. "I feel like, with the competition these days," Reed said, "whoever is playing the best, whether you have experience or don't, is going to pull off a victory."

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