ATLANTA – When it comes to the impending Ryder Cup, everybody wearing red, white and blue is going to be scrutinized as if they’re under the searing glare of a microscope lens.
The captain, Tom Watson. His three captain’s picks. Jim Furyk, who played so poorly two years ago. Phil Mickelson, who has played so poorly lately. Veterans who have endured a losing culture. Rookies who shoulder the load of inexperience.
Perhaps no member of the team, however, will be as closely analyzed as Patrick Reed.
You know … Mr. “Top Five” himself.
Reed already carries a stigma of cockiness based largely on comments made after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship six months ago. That brashness not only puts a target on his back for the European players, it potentially offers up a conspicuous scapegoat for American supporters.
In fact, entering this week he was already the clubhouse leader in preconceived notions.
Two weeks ago, he was two strokes off the Deutsche Bank Championship lead through 36 holes, only to post a third-round 82 and miss the secondary cut. Last week, he opened with a 77 at the BMW Championship and played catch-up, finishing T-53.
Not so suddenly, the alarms sounded.
Even before Reed had a chance to get to Gleneagles, even before he could recover and find his form, he was being whispered about – by supporters, not teammates – as a potentially weak link for the U.S. squad.
Which is why Thursday must have felt so good for him.
Quickly rounding back into form after two disappointing weeks, Reed opened with a 3-under 67 at the Tour Championship, leaving him just one stroke behind co-leaders Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel.
“After those two rounds,” he said of the 82 in Boston and 77 in Denver, “I went back, I talked to my coach and stuff, and I talked to him on what do I need to do just to conserve energy. Because both of those I woke up, I was tired and I'm just worn out. This is our seventh week in a row. I've never played seven straight.
“So there were some things that he helped me with on just different ways to attack our game plan and just preparation to keep our energy level up coming into tournament days.”
That’s not to suggest he was overly worried about finding his game.
Despite Watson’s consistent plea that he wants players who are “in form” entering the upcoming proceedings, Reed doesn’t believe that much he does during these FedEx Cup playoffs will translate into his performance at the Ryder Cup in two weeks.
“No, not at all,” he answered. “I want to go home after this event and I'm not going to touch a golf club for three days, and then it will be the best thing for me because after that, whenever I do pick up the clubs, my energy is going to be back up and I'm going to be able to sustain and be ready to go.”
Even so, climbing the leaderboard on a humid Atlanta afternoon certainly won’t hurt his confidence level at all. Since his victory at Doral, he owns just two top-10 finishes in 17 starts – hardly fitting for a player who, in the heat of the moment, referred to himself as a “top-five player” after that win.
Now we’ll find out whether he can maintain that performance level, rather than falter like the last time he was in contention.
If that 82 is still bothering Reed, though, he has an uncanny knack for hiding it.
“That probably rattled me for about 30 seconds,” he insisted. “I was over it. It's golf. You're going to have a bad round. And that's the one thing that I feel like I've done really well, is whether I play really great round or play a real poor round, I get over it real quickly and I try to focus on what's coming up and what's next.
“I didn't really learn it. It's just something I've always been pretty good at. Same thing in tests in class. I memorize the information. I forget two seconds later.”
Reed’s biggest test will come in two weeks, when – like so many of his American counterparts – he’ll be scrutinized for his play.
“It’s always in the back of my mind,” he admitted about the Ryder Cup.
His performance this week will be in the forefront of plenty of minds in his last quiz before facing that big test. So far, he’s passing with flying colors.