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Reed wasn't the popular winner, but he was deserving

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(Editor's note: This essay originally ran on the April 9, 2018 edition of Golf Central.)

No major provides a higher ratio of crowd-pleasing, history-satisfying winners than the Masters.

Think Sam. Arnold. Jack. 

Think Seve. Tiger. Jordan.

But even Augusta isn't immune to spoilers. Remember Charles Coody edging Nicklaus and Johnny Miller in 1971. Larry Mize shocking Ballesteros and Greg Norman in 1987. Danny Willett running past a fallen Spieth in 2016.

Patrick Reed took a well-earned, three-stroke lead into this year's final round, but let's face it, most were hoping he wouldn't hold it. Not over arguably the three most popular players in the game, who each, amazingly, had a real chance on Sunday to achieve their greatest moments so far.

First there was Rory McIlroy, trying to complete the career Grand Slam on the game's grandest stage. But Rory, paired with Reed on Sunday and feeling the weight of joining golf's most exclusive club, quickly lost the putting magic he'd so dramatically found at Bay Hill and which he had appeared to solidify in the first three rounds. The soon-to-be 29-year-old's quest for what is becoming the most consequential green jacket in history continues.


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Then came Jordan Spieth, who, despite taking the first-round lead, began Sunday nine strokes behind Reed. He uncannily regained his golden Masters touch, methodically piling up birdies until he was on the brink of the greatest final round in major championship history. When Spieth birdied the 16th with an impossibly long putt, just as he'd done late at Chambers Bay and St. Andrews, he was tied with Reed and one more birdie away from a round of 62. But unlike Birkdale last year, it didn't happen.

Finally, there was Rickie Fowler, the game's most fan-friendly figure who is also the best player who hasn't won a major. Fowler showed a new degree of competitive poise and gave his best major performance ever, finishing with a brave and confidence-building birdie on the 72nd hole that left Reed no out.

Not that the new champion ever looks for one. He is nobody's darling, but the jaunty Reed thrives on challenge and possesses a brawler's knack for extracting psychological advantage from the underdog position. He had founded his lead on two brilliant back-nine eagles on Saturday, and when it looked like he might finally lose it late on Sunday, he processed the roars for Spieth and Fowler, made two unlikely birdies on the 12th and 14th, and hung tough. 

"I knew it was going to be a dogfight," Reed said. "It's just a way of God basically saying, 'Let's see if you have it.'"

Reed does. Ultimately, regardless of a player's personality, it's the quality that's most respected, and produces it's own brand of charisma.

Will it also garner affection? It turns out Reed already receives the grudging kind. As Spieth, his regular Ryder Cup partner, said, "Everybody really likes battling Patrick, because he loves it so much."

Sounds like Reed, who definitely satisfied history as Masters champion, has at least a puncher's chance of being a crowd pleaser, too.