AUGUSTA, Ga. — As a golfer, Patrick Reed is a scrapper. He always is at his best when he believes he has a fight on his hands. That is the way he always has succeeded while wearing red, white and blue, and that is the approach that put him in a green jacket.
He kept reminding himself that becoming a major champion would require a tussle, and he got more than he bargained for on Sunday. The man nicknamed Captain America because he has done so well for his country in international competition turned back an early challenge from old Ryder Cup foe Rory McIlroy and held off later rushes from his Ryder Cup teammates Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Right down to the clinching three-foot putt on the final hole, Reed withstood every foray, battled back against what he saw as popular opinion and won the Masters. By shooting 1-under-par 71 to finish 15 under, he scrapped his way to his first major title.
His caddie and brother-in-law Kessler Karain, drained by the emotion, said, “At one point, I think I said, ‘It may have not been pretty, but you got the job done.’ ”
Reed, a 27-year-old from Spring, Texas, with five PGA Tour victories and two NCAA team championships with Augusta State, said, “I knew it was going to be a dogfight. It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it. Everyone knows you have it physically, with the talent, but do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?’”
It had figured to be a one-on-one struggle in the final group with McIlroy, against whom Reed won an epic Ryder Cup match two years ago. Both had shaky starts, though, and McIlroy had a shakier finish. His 74 was the only over-par score among the top 16 finishers. The four-time major winner, who was trying to complete the career Grand Slam, said, “We were both around even par, and just sort of grinding out there. And it wasn’t quite what we both had in mind.”
What was in Reed’s mind was the realization that Captain America isn’t necessarily America’s Choice. It felt like the Ryder Cup all right, but to Reed it was as if he were on the visiting team. Fans cheered louder for McIlroy. “But that’s another thing that just kind of played into my hand,” Reed said. “Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off of me and adds it back to him.”
The greatest pressure on Reed came from Spieth, his partner in Ryder and Presidents Cup matches. Spieth began the day nine strokes back but at one point drew even before making bogey on 18 for a 64. Fowler rallied late, going 5 under on the final 10 holes.
Each time Reed was really up against it, he came through. After an opening bogey and lackluster par, he fired home a 20-foot birdie putt that, had it not gone in, “probably still would be rolling,” he said. After a bogey on 11, he birdied the devilish par-3 12th. After Spieth tied him, Reed made a birdie on the par-4 14th.
“Patrick, he’s not scared. I think you have seen that previously from the Ryder Cups,” Fowler said. “He’ll play aggressive, he’ll play his game. He won’t back down. I don’t necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back into the tournament. You have to go catch him.”
Reed’s life story has some jagged edges. He played for Augusta State after having been dismissed from the team at Georgia. He has denied reports he had cheated in a qualifying tournament and stolen from teammates. Other reports say he was unpopular at his second college, too. He is estranged from his parents and sister, who have denied his claims of having been abused.
When asked about the family situation, he said only, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
He won the tournament that most golfers want most to win. In fighting off the challenges and putting on the green jacket, he effectively told his doubters and detractors what he emphatically said to quiet the European fans during one loud Ryder Cup match: “Shhhhhhhhhh.”