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Like it or not, Reed a Masters champion

By Ryan LavnerApril 9, 2018, 2:03 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Of all the potential scenarios at this 82nd Masters, it wasn’t difficult to discern the patrons’ preference for a winner.

A Rory McIlroy Grand Slam? They cheered lustily on the first tee, but that dream soon fizzled.

A historic Jordan Spieth comeback? They stirred the pines, but he bogeyed the 72nd hole.

A feel-good Rickie Fowler win? They implored him to finish, but ultimately he fell one stroke shy.

And so the only one left to cheer late Sunday was Patrick Nathaniel Reed, who has seamlessly played the role of both hero and villain during his turbulent career.

Grievances, both perceived and otherwise, have fueled the 27-year-old’s rise to stardom, and so the tepid response to his one-stroke Masters victory was a fitting soundtrack for this complicated character.

“Patrick is a bulldog – he’s used to being the underdog,” said his swing coach, Kevin Kirk. “It doesn’t bother him that people like him or don't like him. He thinks, I’m going to win this tournament whether you like it or not.” 

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During a frenetic final round that featured a trio of star-studded challengers and raucous cheers for seemingly everyone but him, Reed never lost his cool, or the lead, during a gritty 71. All day he turned back McIlroy (74) and Spieth (64) and Fowler (67) to capture his first major – a title that long felt like his destiny.

“To win your first major is never going to be easy,” he said, after slipping into his size-44 green jacket, “and it definitely wasn’t easy today. It’s a way of God saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it. Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent. But do you have it mentally?’”

And that, of course, has always been the question with Reed.

Carrying a chip the size of Texas, Reed’s abrasive personality has rubbed others the wrong way for the past decade. 

Alienating his teammates at Georgia with his brash attitude and me-first approach (along with other unconfirmed misdeeds), he lasted only a semester with the Bulldogs, his dismissal expedited by a 2008 arrest for underage possession of alcohol and possession of a fraudulent ID.

In need of guidance, Reed found a willing mentor in Josh Gregory. Then the coach at Augusta St., Gregory convinced the brooding 20-year-old to eschew another big program for a Division II commuter school with a $30,000 operating budget. “I told him, ‘Let’s be the big fish in a small pond. Come to a smaller school, play for a coach who will be very hands-on and involved in your life,’” Gregory said. “That was something I thought he needed.”

The honeymoon phase wore off quickly there, too. Reed immediately clashed with team members and was suspended for the first two events of the semester for an undisclosed violation. Pushed by the team’s other standout, Henrik Norlander, however, Reed blossomed into the blue-chipper that all of those powerhouse programs had envisioned during recruiting. He helped carry little-known Augusta State all the way to an NCAA title, toppling Oklahoma State, one of college golf’s blue bloods. Afterward, Reed rushed over to Gregory, swallowed him in a bear hug and lifted him into the air.

“Coach,” he said, weeping, “Thank you so much for believing in me when no one else did.”

That season on the brink wasn’t a fluke. The following year, still isolated from teammates, Reed once again guided Augusta State to the championship match, where they faced a familiar foe – Georgia, the school that less than two years earlier had kicked him to the curb. Worried that his star would be hell-bent on revenge, Gregory approached Reed on the practice putting green before his match with Harris English. Before he could even utter a word, Reed looked at him and snarled, “Coach, don’t say a f------ word. I’ve got this.” He earned the clinching point, going 6-0 in two NCAA appearances.

It’s revealing that, all these years later, his former teammates are still reluctant to talk about his stint at Augusta State; Gregory, who still works with Reed as his performance coach, conceded, “There were some rocky times. It wasn’t easy.”

Patrick Reed, Josh Gregory at 2010 NCAA Men's Finals (Getty Images)

Photos: Patrick Reed through the years | Best of: Patrick and Justine Reed

The lone-wolf mentality may have created friction at the college level, but his intense single-mindedness immediately translated to the pros. After earning his 2013 Tour card, Reed took down Spieth at the Wyndham Championship for his first title. The next year, Reed outlasted the field at the World Golf Championship event at Doral, where he memorably claimed afterward that he was a top-five player in the world, when in fact he was barely top 20. Though his statement had some merit – he became only the fifth player in the past quarter-century to win four Tour events before age 25 – his delivery missed the mark. On a Tour full of straight-laced, PR-conscious automatons, Reed came off as unapologetically cocky.

To those who knew him, though, the bravado was familiar. “I genuinely have never met anybody who wants to win as bad as he does, at all costs,” said a former teammate. “I genuinely think he plays with hatred.”

But for all of Reed’s team success, both in college and at the Ryder Cup, he hasn’t been able to transfer that Captain America persona to the majors. He didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 major appearances, and then when he finally did, during a tie for second last August at the PGA, he bogeyed the 72nd hole to clear the way for Justin Thomas. Even as recently as last month Reed lacked the ruthlessness that has defined his match-play triumphs; he bogeyed the final hole in Tampa after having just a short iron for his approach.

His struggles here at Augusta were even more puzzling. In college, he played the course at least once a year, but in the winter the fairways were softer and the greens slower. The challenge seemed immense and he was psyched out, never breaking 70 in his first 12 competitive rounds.

“It’s always been a place that should cater to his game,” Gregory said. “He has the imagination and self-belief to feel like he can pull off every shot. Augusta is tailor-made for that.”

But after his first winless season, in 2016-17, Reed spent the offseason addressing one of his only weaknesses. He’s modest off the tee, at least by brawny Tour standards, and he didn’t drive the ball particularly straight with his slinging hook. He finally incorporated a cut into his game. “And once he’s in the fairway,” Gregory said, “he’ll be pretty tough to beat.”

Reed rounded into form with three consecutive top-10s, then repeatedly put himself in the fairway at Augusta, prepared to attack. On five different occasions this week he ripped off three birdies in a row, and on Saturday he eagled both back-nine par 5s. He dominated the par 5s (13 under), opened with three rounds in the 60s and grabbed his first 54-hole lead in a major.

Three clear, one day to go, and the only true threat in his path, it seemed at the time, was McIlroy.

On Saturday night, McIlroy set the tone for the final round, telling reporters in separate interviews that Reed had the most final-round pressure. It was clever, diverting attention from his pursuit of the career Grand Slam, but those mind games were ineffective on Reed, who has proved at every level – state tournaments, NCAA finals, Monday qualifiers, Tour playoffs, Ryder Cup – to be largely impervious to pressure.

“He’s not afraid,” Gregory said. “He’s the guy who wants the ball at the end of the game. He’s the closer. He’s the quarterback with two minutes left. He relishes that moment, that 1-on-1 mentality.”

On Sunday morning, when he wasn’t watching the Disney Channel with his two young kids, Reed listened intently to the TV analysts breaking down the final group. Not one to forget a slight, he drew even more motivation when all but one picked McIlroy to win.

The first tee was another eye-opener. “His cheer was a little louder,” Reed said of McIlroy. “But that’s another thing that played into my hand. Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but it took the pressure off of me and added it back to him.”

Reed looked shaky to start, yanking his tee shot into the trees on No. 1 and then failing to birdie the easy, par-5 second, but he rammed home a birdie putt on No. 3 to settle his nerves.

With a four-shot lead with 10 holes to play, Reed's advantage had been trimmed to one as he lined up his second shot into the 13th hole. Then he chunked his 7-iron, and his ball barely cleared the hazard and clung to the hill. As he approached the green, the grandstand exploded – Spieth had tied the lead.

“But he didn’t let the roars and the crowd get to him,” said his caddie/brother-in-law, Kessler Karain. “If anything, I felt like he knew that he couldn’t afford to slip. That motivated him.”

Reed stuffed his approach into No. 14 to 8 feet for a go-ahead birdie, then made three consecutive pars to stand on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead.

Up ahead, Fowler capped off his round with a final birdie. “It doesn’t matter,” Karain told him. “It all comes down to us.”

Reed drove to the edge of the fairway, then left himself one of the fastest putts on the property, a 25-footer down the slope on 18. Needing two putts to win, his first attempt raced 3 feet past.

About to step in for one last pep talk, Karain deferred. “I decided, no, don’t get in the way,” he said. “Just let him do what he does.”

Reed holed the putt for the win, and the crowd politely cheered.

“Great f------ job,” Karain told him. “It may not have been pretty, but it got the job done.”

Added Reed's wife, Justine: “It’s everything we’ve been working hard for. A lot of people, for a long time, maybe don’t say his name as often as they should. That’s what I think. I’ve always thought he’s a great player. That’s what he did today – he showed his true colors.”

And yet, the ending felt subdued, bittersweet and awkward, as some fans (and even a green jacket’s wife) openly rooted against him. There was no Augusta State support, despite the campus sitting just four miles from the gates here at the National. And none of his family members were present, either, even though they live in Augusta, because he has been estranged from his parents for the past six years.

It’s a sad reminder of his complicated past, and the memories he can't outrace, even with a major title.

“Unfortunately, people see the brashness and the bravado and the past incidents and think that he’s a bad dude. And that’s just not the case,” Gregory said. “He’s just in his own world and very business-like. He’s not the villain that everyone makes him out to be.”

No, he is the new Masters champion – whether you like it or not.

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Furyk on Tiger-Phil pairing: 'Probably not too likely'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 10:40 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – So much for the possibility of a Tiger-Phil pairing.

A day after Mickelson said that both he and Woods would “welcome” the opportunity to team up 14 years after their disastrous Ryder Cup partnership, U.S. captain Jim Furyk all but squashed the idea Wednesday.

“I guess nothing’s out of the realm,” Furyk said during his news conference. “I think they both mentioned it would be a lot better pairing than it was in the past. I won’t ever say it wouldn’t happen, but it’s probably not too likely.”

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Woods and Mickelson have grown closer since they both were part of the Ryder Cup task force. In 2004, U.S. captain Hal Sutton made the unprecedented move of pairing the top two players in the world – at that time, rivals who were not particularly close – to disastrous effect, as they went 0-2 together en route to a blowout American loss.

Mickelson said he’d welcome another pairing with Woods, then added, “I do have an idea of what Captain Furyk is thinking, yeah.”

And apparently he’s thinking no.

Furyk made similar remarks earlier this year, when he said that putting Woods and Mickelson together again "wouldn't be a good idea as a captain."

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Reed match taught McIlroy the need to conserve energy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:18 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – One of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in recent history was also one of the most exhausting.

Rory McIlroy was asked on Wednesday at Le Golf National about his singles bout with Patrick Reed two years ago at Hazeltine National, when the duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle through eight frenzied holes.

“I could play it for nine holes, and then it suddenly hit me,” said McIlroy, who was 5 under through eight holes but played his final 10 holes in 2 over par. “The level sort of declined after that and sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes wasn't quite as good.”

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In retrospect McIlroy said the match, which he lost, 1 down, was educational and he realized that maintaining that level of emotion over 18 holes isn’t realistic.

“It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days,” he said. “I learnt a lot from that and learnt that it's good to get excited and it's good to have that, but at the same time, if I need and have to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday, and it cost me.”

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U.S. team gives Tiger 'cold shoulder' after Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:08 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods was one of the final members of Team USA to make it to the team room late Sunday in Atlanta after his travel plans were delayed by his victory at the Tour Championship.

As the team waited, captain Jim Furyk concocted a plan for Woods.

“I ran into Jim Furyk and he said, ‘We were thinking about giving Tiger the cold shoulder like they do in baseball when the guy hits his first home run.’ He asked, ‘Do you think Tiger will be OK with that?’” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava told Ryder Cup Radio on Sirius/XM. “I was like, ‘Of course he would. He’s got a sense of humor.’”

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The U.S. team had plenty to cheer on Sunday with vice captain Steve Stricker also winning on the PGA Tour Champions. But it was Woods’ reception following his 80th PGA Tour victory and his first in five years that provided the best reaction.

“Tiger shows up about a half-hour later and is looking for some high-fives from everybody and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. They weren’t even looking at him, they all have their backs to him,” LaCava said. “He’s looking at me like what’s going on? He’s not a guy who is looking for fanfare, but these are his boys. He’s looking for 11 guys to run up and give him a good hug.”

LaCava said the team ignored Woods for about two minutes before breaking the silence with cheers and congratulations.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup Playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

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When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”