He’s fallen over that divide on occasion, like last year at the WGC-Cadillac Championship when he declared himself a “top-5 player,” but he has always been ready with an answer.
A day after that declaration, Reed’s competitive mea culpa came via a one-stroke victory for his third triumph in his last 14 starts.
On Sunday at last year’s Ryder Cup he stunned the partisan galleries when he shushed the crowd during his match against Henrik Stenson, a match he would win, 1 up. Reed would finish his week in Scotland with a 3-0-1 record, a rare bright spot from an otherwise forgettable American side.
“That’s me,” Reed smiled on Wednesday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Patrick Reed is brash and unapologetic and arrives at Doral an unchanged man. Truth is he wouldn’t know how to alter his course even if he wanted to.
He returns to Doral this week and is still not a top-5 player, although he’s on a well-marked path to arrive there in the not-so-distant future after a victory at the year-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions moved him into the top 15.
True to his DNA, Reed still holds to his “top-5” comment like a 3-yard draw with a 5-iron.
“That’s more of what people think,” he said. “Honestly for me, it’s just more on the determination and passion that I have for the game.”
Reed is neither confident nor cocky. He’s simply driven. Driven to be a top-5 player, driven to play in every international team match until he draws a pension, driven to be mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Rory, Tiger and Phil.
“Any time you go up and play against the top player in the world, you'd better be comfortable,” Reed said. “I would love to get up to that position where I'm a true rival against [McIlroy].”
For all of the microanalysis, Reed is not a villain. In fact, he can be charming when the topic and the tone of a conversation align properly.
During Wednesday’s give and take with the media, Reed was asked if his wife, Justine, had turned in her status as a professional caddie, “Ask her, she's right back there ... she's not retired yet,” he laughed.
On the golf course, however, there is an edge that hasn’t softened regardless of the negative attention he received in the past year.
A recent story in Sport Illustrated chronicled Reed’s rocky history and his estrangement from his teammates during a brief stay at the University of Georgia and finally Augusta State. For the latter, it was Reed’s driven desire to be the best that didn’t exactly make friends and influence people.
While last year’s “top-5” missive may not sit well with his Tour frat brothers, most will concede that inner belief is a job requirement for a professional golfer. Some would say Reed’s only miscue was offering his thoughts on camera.
To his credit, Reed knew the “top-5” questions would be waiting when he arrived back at Doral, site of his most high-profile victory. But instead of fixating on it he waxed over the importance of winning such an important event.
“To be able to actually play against them and have a lead going into Sunday and having Tiger in the group in front of me, having Bubba right there, having Dufner, having all these guys that have won majors all around me; and be able to hold them off and go out and win it, it just gave me that extra confidence that I can play with everybody,” he said.
Some Tour professionals play for trophies, others for money; Reed thrives on the thrill of the duel. Confrontational by nature, he is at his happiest when the tension is highest.
Even the Honda Classic, where he finished tied for seventh after a closing 73, was a learning moment.
“When you win, you always look at all the positives and everything you did well,” said Reed, who tees off Thursday at Doral at 11:22 p.m. ET. “But when you play poorly, you can fine-tune and find really what it is that you need to work on.”
For Reed, improving on the course, not softening his competitive edge, is the only thing worth focusing on.