AUGUSTA, Ga. — Here is another one of those Masters traditions that keeps on going: While early finishers review their rounds and talk about how impossibly difficult the course is that day, someone is out there proving them wrong.
This time it was Patrick Reed, who was undaunted by the slick greens and swirling winds that had caused so much trouble for others. Playing in the last group on Friday, he made nine birdies, shot 6-under-par 66 and took the midpoint lead at the Masters at 9 under. He earned the right to play in the final group on Saturday with Marc Leishman, who shot 67 to finish 7 under.
Leishman also played in the afternoon, in front of the largest gatherings. He happened to be in a threesome with Tiger Woods, whose comeback from spinal fusion surgery led to a huge buildup for this Masters. Woods scrapped to make the cut, shooting 75 and finishing 4 over.
The anticipation for this season’s first major had not been built around Reed despite his impressive record at the Ryder Cup and five PGA Tour victories, including the 2016 Barclays at Bethpage Black. Reed, 27, never has won a major.
“If you don’t think you can win them, then you probably shouldn’t be playing in them,” he said. “I believe that if I play the golf I know that I can play, I can win majors. I have to go in and not get ahead of myself and take it shot-by-shot.”
He watched the struggle of the morning players, including Ryder Cup partner Jordan Spieth, who followed his 66 on Thursday with a 74 to finish 4 over (tied with Rory McIlroy). Reed was determined to get off to a good start without becoming too aggressive. He chose to tee off on No. 1 with a 3-wood instead of a driver, heeding the advice of his wife (and former caddie), Justine. She knows he has a tendency to draw his drive into the left rough.
So he hit into the fairway on his way to a birdie. He then made 4 on No. 2, the first of his birdies on all four par-5 holes. He birdied the par-4 third hole and was on his way.
Woods, who has become close with Reed through the U.S. Ryder and Presidents Cup teams, said of the leader’s round, “Under these conditions? That’s impressive. We were thinking that 4-under or 5-under might be the lowest round out there. But he has proven us wrong.”
Reed has reason to feel comfortable in this city, having led Augusta State University to NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011. Occasionally, the squad was allowed to play on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.
“A lot of times, we’d come out and play with the members. It was always pretty cool, so the ball just wasn’t traveling,” he said. “Fairways were softer so the ball wasn’t running. The shortest club I hit into 11 was a hybrid. I mean, you just don’t see that.”
On the other hand, the greens were not nearly as fast as they are for the Masters. The experience outweighed everything. “You know, the way the guys in the locker rooms are, the way all the staff is. They are great and they treated us with respect,” he said. “It was an awesome week.”
He could be saying the same about this week with another couple of rounds like the one he had Friday. Reed has proved his toughness in the cauldron of pressure during the Ryder Cup, especially in Europe.
Whether that confidence can translate to the Masters is another question. “I mean, I try to treat every event, whether it’s a major or Ryder Cup, like it’s a normal event,” he said. “To me, it’s still golf.”