Doral, Fla. – For the second consecutive year the guy in the red shirt won the PGA Tour’s south Florida siesta otherwise known as the WGC-Cadillac Championship, just not the guy the majority of the golf public thought it would be.
It’s far too early to declare Patrick Reed the other guy just yet, that kind of high cotton only arrives after a six-pack of majors and a dozen Tour tilts, but there is no denying that the 23-year-old has gone a long way to back up all that brashness.
On Sunday, under the most glaring spotlight of his young career, Reed held off the deepest field of the year for a one-stroke victory and his first World Golf Championship.
If comparisons to Tiger Woods seem a tad too farfetched when it comes to Reed, consider that he has now won three Tour events in his last 14 starts and climbed from 370th in the world at this point last year to inside the top 20 with his victory at the new Doral thanks to a stellar short game and an inner belief that belies his resume.
“My whole team behind me they know how good I am and they believe I'm a top‑5 player in the world. And I believe it, as well,” said Reed, who closed with a 72 to edge Bubba Watson (68) and Jamie Donaldson (70) by a shot.
Misplaced confidence is part of professional golf, consider it a job requirement or an occupational hazard, depending on one’s point of view. Either way, doubt is the easiest way to squander potential and if Reed rubs some the wrong way with his self-belief consider the fact that he’s come by it honestly.
Josh Gregory saw it the first time he met Reed, who was leaving the University of Georgia after one year and was looking to transfer to Augusta (Ga.) State.
“My job is to convince players they are twice as good as they are,” said Gregory, who was the golf coach at Augusta State at the time. “(Reed) didn’t need to be told how good he is.”
That confidence will likely only grow following Reed’s victory at Doral, where he began the final round two shots clear of the field and birdied three of his first four holes.
Although things wouldn’t go entirely to script with a bogey at the 14th hole to drop him to 3 under, a miscue at the last by Donaldson would give Reed a cushion to play the potentially devastating last hole in an uncharacteristically conservative manner.
Reed hit 7-iron short of the 18th fairway, punched up to 76 yards with his second and two-putted for victory and has now turned all three of his 54-hole leads into Tour titles.
“I asked, ‘What’s Donaldson at?’ and heard he’d missed a 15‑footer (at No. 18) so he made bogey,” Reed said. “I was playing for that right rough and laid up with 7‑iron, hit a little wedge to the middle of the green and easy two‑putt.”
But if Reed’s results have finally caught up with his confidence, Woods enters his final run up to the Masters with a balky back and a game that ebbs and flows depending on his medical status.
Through his first three holes on Sunday, Woods hit a water hazard and two fans. It’s not often the world No. 1 signs more gloves during the round than he normally does after the round but such is life for Woods in 2014, a calendar which features just 10 rounds on the Tour and only a single completed card on a Sunday.
Woods opened his day with a drive that sailed right of the first fairway and clunked a fan on the head, followed by another at the third that caromed back into the fairway.
“Everybody OK?” Woods asked the fans along the third fairway.
He was not.
Before hitting his 5-iron approach shot into the third, Woods tried to loosen his back with a few simple twists. It didn’t work and his approach sailed into the lake for the second time in three days.
By the turn he was eight strokes back and moving gingerly, again. Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic after just 13 holes a week ago and he spent the better part of Sunday on his way to a closing 78 and a tie for 25th place stretching what was obviously a tender back.
“If I feel good I can actually make a pretty decent swing. You saw it (Saturday, when he carded a 66),” said Woods, whose last scheduled start before next month’s Masters will be the Arnold Palmer Invitational in two weeks. “I actually can make some good swings and shoot a good score, but if I’m feeling like this it’s a little tough.”
In Woods’ defense, the entire field likely felt a little tender after four trips around the nip/tucked Blue Monster. Donald Trump wanted the hardest golf course on the PGA Tour and with an assist from Mother Nature on Friday – when winds gusted to 35 mph – he, and architect Gil Hanse, succeeded.
The week’s scoring average (73.852) makes Doral the toughest course in 2014. That’s nearly 2 ½ strokes harder than the course average last year (71.35), when 19 under was the winning total compared to Reed’s 4 under finish.
“I think it needs to mature a little bit, tweak it here and there,” said Watson, who has a victory and two runner-up finishes in 2014. “I never looked at the green on No. 9 because for me being a lefty, all it takes is the ball going a little bit to the right and rolls off the green into the water. I think it's very severe.”
With the possible exception of Trump, Reed may have been the only person giving the Blue Monster a perfect score in its debut, but then what else would one expect from the winner or a player with as much confidence as the Texan?
On Saturday night, Reed raised eyebrows in certain circles when he said he considered himself a top-5 player in an NBC Sports interview. It was a telling glimpse into the mind of a player who appears precariously perched between confident and cocky.
The same could be said for Reed’s choice of a Sunday wardrobe, which dates back to his junior days. But one shouldn’t confuse confidence for careful respect.
“The best player ever to live when I was growing up wore black pants, a red shirt,” Reed said. “I was growing up watching him, I always thought, you know, it would be cool to wear black and red come down Sunday. You know, it’s worked.”