AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed may not go down as the most popular champion the Masters has ever seen, but he was certainly deserving of the green jacket, which he earned with a week of solid play and a one-stroke victory over Rickie Fowler Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club.
The 27-year-old native of Augusta started the day with a three-stroke lead and held off a host of challengers in what was undoubtedly one of the best leaderboards in Masters history.
Finishing one shot behind Fowler was 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, who closed with a spectacular 64, followed by Jon Rahm, the No. 3-ranked golfer in the world, while two-time champion Bubba Watson, five-time major winner Rory McIlroy and former British Open champion Henrik Stenson finished in a tie for fifth.
Utah’s Tony Finau was too far back at the start of the day to contend, but he had the third-best score of the day with a 6-under-par 66 that put him in a tie for 10th place and earned himself an automatic spot in next year’s Masters tournament by finishing in the top 12.
“It’s been a pretty spectacular week for me,” Finau said. “To be on the back nine at Augusta on a Sunday to be playing good golf — it doesn’t get much better.”
As for Reed, he seems to be the perfect golfer to wear the green jacket — a native of Augusta, who played college golf at Augusta State, where he led his team to two NCAA championships and then led the United States to a victory in the Ryder Cup in 2016 with a 3.5-1-1 record.
But he also has a history of troubles going back to college when he was kicked off the Georgia golf team, reportedly for stealing and officially for several alcohol-related arrests and then was accused of cheating twice while at Augusta State and nearly kicked off that team.
Since being on the PGA Tour, Reed has rubbed folks the wrong way, proclaiming himself one of the top five golfers in the world back in 2013 before he’d ever played in a major. He was ranked as the second-most unpopular PGA Tour player in an informal poll. Last month before playing Spieth, the No. 1 most popular player in the same poll, in the PGA’s Match Play tournament last month and asked about his opponent, Reed said, jokingly, “I don’t know, my back still hurts from the Ryder Cup,” implying that he carried the U.S. on his back with his strong play.
On the other hand, Reed has been praised for his willingness to represent the United States in the Olympics when other top players chose not to go, and he has been the most clutch player in the past two Ryder Cups.
Reed put himself in position to win the Masters with rounds of 69, 66 and 67 — his first rounds in the 60s in his five Masters appearances, which gave him a three-shot advantage over McIlroy heading into Sunday’s final round.
When Reed bogeyed the first hole and McIlroy birdied the second, it looked like a horse race was on, but Reed came back to birdie 3, where McIlroy bogeyed.
McIlroy, who was hoping to complete his career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, never got closer as he faded with bogeys at 8 and 11 and eventually finished five shots behind Reed.
That left the door open for others to make runs, including Spieth, who had started the day nine shots off the pace. The 24-year-old Spieth shot a 5-under-par 31 on the front nine and added birdies at 12, 13, 15 and 16 to get to 9-under-par on the day and just one behind Reed.
Spieth was actually temporarily tied with Reed, playing four groups behind him, but he bogeyed the 18th, his first of the day, to fall back to 13-under par.
With McIlroy having faded, that left just Fowler with a chance to catch Reed. He was looking for his first major victory, but missed a long birdie try at 17, before hitting it close at 18 for a birdie to get to 14-under. However, Reed coolly sank a 6-foot putt for par at 17, then two-putted for par at 18 to get the win by one at 15-under-par 273.
Reed was asked about his relative unpopularity despite being a hometown golfer who played his college golf in the area. Throughout the day, the cheers for McIlroy and others were bigger than they were for Reed. He said he noticed it on the first tee when McIrloy received more applause.
“Rory's was a little louder, but that just played into my hand,” he said. “Not only did it fuel my fire, but it takes the pressure off of me and adds it back on him.
“I just went out there and just tried to play the best I could and stay in the moment and not worry about anything else.”
MASTERS NOTES: Paul Casey had the round of the day, going to 9-under par through 15 holes, but he finished with a par at 16 and bogeys at 17 and 18 for a 65. Tiger Woods, playing his first Masters since 2015, had his best round of the week with a 69 to put him at 289 in a tie for 32nd place, Phil Mickelson was another shot back at 290 after his best round, a 5-under-par 67. University of Texas golfer Doug Ghim finished as the low amateur at 8-over-par 296 with a final-round 74. Fred Couples, who tied Gary Player for second place in made cuts at the Masters with 30, finished with a 72 for a 3-over 291 total.