AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – The tepid applause that greeted Patrick Reed on the first tee made it clear he wasn’t the people’s choice.
All he cared about was being the Masters champion.
He turned back an early move by Rory McIlroy and a late charge by Rickie Fowler. Most daunting in the middle of the final round Sunday was a familiar name at Augusta National — Jordan Spieth — on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history.
Reed had the game and the grit to beat them all. And when he slipped on that green jacket, he had everyone’s respect.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Reed said. “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?”
He has proven that playing for his country. He did it Sunday for himself.
The final test was a 25-foot putt down the scary slope on the 18th green, and Reed pressed down both hands, begging it to stop as it rolled 3 feet by. From there, the 27-year-old Texan calmly rolled in the par putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory.
Known as “Captain America” for his play in the Ryder Cup, Reed added a far more important title: Masters champion.
The loudest cheers were for everyone else, and Reed picked up on that right away. The crowd was squarely behind McIlroy and his best chance yet at completing the career Grand Slam. Then it was Spieth, running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to challenge the course record. The loudest cheer was for Fowler when he made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to pull within one.
Reed never flinched through it all.
“I just went out there and just tried to play golf the best I could and tried to stay in the moment and not worry about everything else,” Reed said.
Reed, who finished at 15-under 273, won for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career.
Hideki Matsuyama ended his seventh Masters in 19th place,12 strokes behind Reed.
Matsuyama shot four birdies against a bogey for a 3-under-par 69 to finish at a 3-under 285
“I feel like I gave it my best. These shots and approaches, my putting overall — I was able to stick it out for four days in poor conditions, so that was good,” said Matsuyama, whose best finish at the Masters was fifth in 2015.
Matsuyama fell from sixth to eighth in the world rankings,
Until Sunday, Reed was best known for the trophies he shared at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is ferocious in match play, especially the team variety, and his singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup led to his nickname.
“He’s not scared. I think you guys have seen that previous from the Ryder Cups and the way he plays,” said Fowler, who closed with a 67. “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.”
Fowler did his best with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, and the 8-footer on the final hole. It still wasn’t enough. Fowler was runner-up for the third time in a major. He left the scoring cabin when Reed tapped in for par.
Spieth put up the most unlikely fight and was on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history. He started nine shots behind going into the final round, and was inches away on two shots from a chance at another green jacket.
His tee shot on the 18th clipped the last branch in his way, dropping his ball some 267 yards from the green. His 8-foot par putt for a record-tying 63 narrowly missed on the right. He had to settle for a 64.
“I think I’ve proven to myself and to others that you never give up,” Spieth said. “I started the round nine shots back and I came out with the idea of just playing the golf course and having a lot of fun doing it and try to shoot a low round and finish the tournament strong and see what happens, if something crazy happens.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for a shot at the career Grand Slam.
Trailing by three shots to start the final round, he closed to within one shot after two holes. That was as close as he came.
McIlroy’s putter betrayed him — he missed four putts inside 10 feet on the front nine — and he was never a factor on the back nine. He closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.
“Tough day, but I’ll be back,” McIlroy said. “And hopefully, I’ll be better.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5