Masterful Reed Breaks Major Duck with Dramatic Victory at Augusta
IT WAS meant to be the day that Rory McIlroy finally shook off his Augusta demons, won The Masters and became only the sixth golfer to achieve the career Grand Slam. He began the day three shots behind Patrick Reed and had a putt on the second green to catch the American, but he missed it and that was as good as it ever got for the Northern Irishman as Reed produced one of the gutsiest performances you will ever witness to land his first major.
The last time these men faced each other was during the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016, when Reed produced some of the best golf of his life to defeat McIlroy. They appeared to have this tournament to themselves but the danger when two players find themselves in a position such as this is that they start playing one another and forget about everybody else. They had played magnificently for three days but the magic had gone. In McIlroy’s case, it transpired that the tank was empty, but Reed refused to go away. There were several dropped shots, but he kept bouncing back and was determined that nobody was going to get ahead of him.
The American scrambled superbly all day long but McIlroy missed too many fairways and his putter was stone cold. His round was summed up by events on the second hole, a par five. McIlroy hit a stunning second shot that finished three feet from the hole. Reed, who had already dropped a shot at the opening hole, somehow managed to scramble a par and the Northern Irishman stood over his putt knowing that if he holed it then he would be tied for the lead. It didn’t even touch the hole. He did manage a birdie at the fourth, courtesy of another glorious iron shot, but for every step forward there were two back.
Having started the day 11 under par, he finished it as the only man on the leaderboard to record a score that was over par. A round of 74 left him on 279, six shots behind Reed in a tie for seventh place. He will be bitterly disappointed that, once again, his putting let him down when it mattered most. But he also drove poorly.
Reed is not the most popular man of the PGA Tour but he has the heart of a lion and will surely have won a legion of new fans with his performance. He once alienated a host of fellow professionals by saying that he felt like he was a top-five golfer. Well he has now proved it. His final round of 71 gave him a winning total of 273, 15 under par.
He was thrilled afterwards. “I knew it was going to be tough and to do it at a place that is so close to me is extra special. I knew my lead would fall at times during the round and I holed some great putts,” he said. “It is impossible to pout into words what this means. And to end the drought after not winning after last year is just extra special."
Rickie Fowler finished one shot behind Reed but the man who came closest to depriving him was Jordan Spieth. He began the day five under par and nine adrift but, incredibly, caught his countryman on the 16th before running out of holes and steam. Spieth had progressed to nine under by the time he got to the ninth tee. And another birdie at nine meant he turned in 31. 10 under. He has had an unfortunate relationship with the 12th hole – it was here in 2016 that he took seven in the final round when leading. But this time he found the back of the green and holed the putt. And when he found the par-five 13th in two and walked off with a birdie he had moved to 12 under for the tournament and seven under for the day.
When Reed dropped shot at 11th hole, his lead over Spieth was down to a single shot. McIlroy also dropped a shot and fell back to nine under, his challenge over. Once again, Reed bounced straight back, this time with a birdie at the 12th. But still Spieth wasn’t finished. He hit the par-five 15th in two, left his putt for an eagle short but knocked in the next one for a birdie. Reed was back where he began at 14 under par, with Spieth breathing down his neck, one shot behind.
And while all of this was going on some of the best players in the world were also making their moves. Jon Rahm began the round eight under par, six behind Reed. He picked up two shots on the front nine and then birdied the 12th, 13th and 15th holes to move to 11 under. The Spaniard was playing with Fowler, long overdue a major victory.
Fowler was five behind when he teed off. He dropped a shot at the fifth and then holed a great putt to save par at the next, but his challenge appeared to be over. He had other ideas, picking up shots at the eighth, ninth, 12th and 13th holes. He was 12 under par.
Spieth brought there house down when he holed a fantastic putt at the par-three 16th hole. Unbelievably, he was tied with Reed on 14 under. Three holes behind, Reed went for the par-five 13th in two but came upon short. He was incredibly lucky not to finish in the water but could only manage a par.
Up ahead, Rahm joined Fowler on 12 under courtesy of an excellent birdie putt at the 14th, but Rham’s challenge came to an end at the 15th when he went for the green in two and found the water. Fowler birdied the same hole and all of a sudden he was 13 under par.
Had anybody told Reed at the start of play that the man to catch him would be Spieth he would have suggested that they had taken leave of their senses, but the 2015 champion was looking like the probable winner as the tournament reached its climax. Reed, looking for his first major, was like a boxer on the ropes, but he refused to hit the canvas. As his approach to the 14th was still in the air he beseeched it to get the right break and finish close to the hole. It did and, showing incredible guts and bravery, he holed it for a birdie and was back in front.
Spieth strode to the 18th knowing that he needed to split the fairway but he hooked it into the trees and although it came out, he was left with a second shot of some 270 yards. Only a birdie would be good enough but he had no chance of reaching the green. He came up well short and pitched to 10 feet but he missed the putt and finished in 13 under after a stunning final round of 64. It meant that Reed was two in front.
He parred the 15th and 16th holes to maintain the gap and then found the fairway at the 17th. However, he missed the green with his approach and left himself a devilish pitch and he very nearly holed it, but the ball rolled six feet beyond the hole. Showing nerves of steel, he drained it for a par.
Up ahead, Fowler struck a fabulous approach to the 72nd green, leaving his ball seven feet from the hole. He needed to make it and he did for a round of 67 to move to 14 under. He had played the final 36 holes in 12 under par and all he could now do was wait. The equation for Reed, back on the tee, was simple enough. Finish with a par and he would be Masters champion. He found the fairway with his drive and hit the green with his second. Two putts later, he was champion.
The European challenge, which burned so brightly at the start of the day, eventually petered out but there was a sparkling final round from Paul Casey. One of the pre-tournament favourites, he only just made the cut and set off two over par. He birdied the second, fifth and eighth holes to reach the turn in 33 and then birdied the 11th and 12th, had an eagle at the 13th and birdied the 14th and 15th. He was on course for a 63 but dropped shots at the final two holes and signed for a 65, finishing the week on five under par. Henrik Stenson finished on nine under par after rounds of 70, 70, 69 and 70 to complete his best Masters. Rahm’s 69 left him on 11 under.
Tiger Woods finished with a 69, his best score of the week, for a one over par total of 289. It wasn’t what he had in mind at the start of the week but he said afterwards that he had enjoyed the week. “The reality is that my iron play simply wasn’t good enough, but I hit a lot of good drives and I putted well,” he said. “I will never forget the welcome I have received from the patrons though – it was very, very special."
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