Patrick Reed's Masters win was richly deserved
So that's it, it's all over! Another Masters Sunday is in the rear view mirror and the one man left standing is 27 year old American Patrick Reed, who has won his first major championship, the green jacket and a cheque for nearly 2 million dollars.
Yet again, Augusta delivered high drama and plenty of story lines over the four days, with Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth just falling short, while Ireland's Rory McIlroy blew a golden chance to win the career Grand Slam.
Reed came into the week in good form, following two top ten placed finishes in stroke play events. This was a Ryder Cup star and a 5 time PGA Tour winner, certainly no back number. Despite playing his college golf in Augusta, the Texan had never broken 70 at the Masters prior to this week. However, this is a course that takes some knowing and Reed was now ready to make a statement. His 66 in tricky conditions on Friday was highly impressive and he went on a hat trick birdie burst four times during the week before making eagles on 13 and 15 on Saturday. It meant he held a 3 shot cushion over McIlroy going into the final round.
For 54 holes, McIlroy had played brilliantly, putting smoothly and limiting mistakes. With four major championships to his name, it looked as if this was going to be his week. He spoke confidently about his chances on Saturday night, hoping to stoke a battle with Reed as transpired at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. It didn't work out that way. Five times on the front nine, McIlroy would miss short putts. His tempo looked out of sync and the shoulders began to drop, his confidence shaken. Reed was steady through 11 holes, but favourable conditions allowed Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Spain's Jon Rahm to make a charge.
On the 12th, McIlroy's goose was cooked and Reed only led by one. His long birdie putt which dropped on that hole was a pivotal moment. On 14, Reed's approach was perfect and picked up a stroke to maintain his cushion. The key hole though was 17, as Reed got up and down for par from a difficult position. All week, he was deadly with the putter, ice cold. As Fowler made a 3 on 18, Reed's constitution was important. It meant he could make par down the last and win, which he duly did, posting 71 for a 15 under par total.
So what did I take out of the week?
I am disappointed for Rory McIlroy. It was all there for him, and now the postmortems will begin. He couldn't have played better for three rounds, but this artist had no canvas on Sunday. The last 4 major champions (Reed, Justin Thomas, Spieth and Brooks Koepka) have all been younger than him. This will gnaw for a while. It will hurt. I still believe McIlroy is the most talented golfer on the planet, but he needs now to show consistent form over the next couple of years if he is going to be spoken of in the same breath as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in the history books. Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson, Nick Faldo and Tom Watson all won at least 5 majors, but they are not in the company of Woods and Nicklaus. Time will tell where McIlroy will rank. His last major win is nearly 4 years ago.
Spieth is just incredible. I call him the unicorn golfer as he is capable of doing anything when in the mood. He is also one leg away from the career Grand Slam, with the PGA Championship the only major not to his name. At 24, this performance should extinguish any pain of losing the tournament to Danny Willett two years ago. Spieth's record at Augusta reads T2 / 1 / T2 / T11 and 3. The only thing that puzzles me is why he didn't check the leader boards yesterday. A par at the last would have put significant pressure on Reed. English golfer Eddie Pepperell calls Spieth an absolute beast on Twitter and he is right.
If a matter of when, not if, Rickie Fowler wins a major. The California native is rising 30 and he now has 8 top five finishes in majors. I get the sense he has been getting some tough love from his coach Butch Harmon and his performance over the weekend was superb - a 65 and a 67. When he needed to birdie the last, he did, and that demonstrated guts. His putting is an asset. Fowler can play in all types of conditions and relishes links golf. Count on him breaking through soon, he is no choker.
Jon Rahm is an absolute phenomenon in ways - a physically unique specimen with brute strength and a soft touch. Only 23, he rose 133 places in the world rankings between 2016 and 2017, an Irish Open collected along the way. A 75 in round one really cost him, but it's an eye opening performance to finish fourth with so little Masters experience. If he can control his temper and cool down a little, it's all there for him.
And finally, a word about Reed being the 'villain' of golf. One thing we haven't really heard from Reed about allegations of cheating and stealing in his college days or his estranged relationship with his parents and sister are his side of the story. What is true is that it's sad that his parents live in Augusta, but were not there to celebrate his victory with him. On the other hand, who knows what goes on in families or what type of life Patrick Reed has had? Let's judge him on his golf, not the person we think he might be, even though we don't really know.
Sports stars are expected to be role models, to behave in a certain way, as they make their money from stardom, from the support of fans. That's fair enough. However, these are human beings like you and I, no better, no worse. Just because you admire and respect someone's supreme talent doesn't mean they are likeable. With all humans, some are fantastic to be around, some you can take or leave. I don't see how Patrick Reed has acted inappropriately as a professional golfer. If he was a punk or a frat boy in college, if he crossed the line, maybe that's all that it was. Hopefully he will address it as he does the round of talk shows in America, if he is asked on them. Just because Tiger Woods made a comeback we can laud doesn't make him Jesus Christ or absolve him of what were questionable behaviours in the past. Once we realise that our heroes are those closest to us, it gets a lot easier to take the psycho analysis of those we spend hours watching on television sport a little less seriously.