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To win, U.S. must overcome its deficit and climb out of the hole Reed keeps digging

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MELBOURNE, Australia – The U.S. team can still win the Presidents Cup with a spirited finish Sunday at Royal Melbourne, but it's lost the moral high ground.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not with Tiger Woods leading an American side that has dominated this event. The playing captain was supposed to provide a shining example that his team would follow to another commanding victory. 

For the most part he’s been as good as advertised. Woods went 2-0 the first two days alongside Justin Thomas, and despite some curious moments – most notably his choice to not play himself at all on Day 3 – Woods has produced. With one glaring exception.

When Woods announced Patrick Reed as a captain’s pick last month, the decision raised eyebrows. Although Reed’s play certainly justified consideration for the team, his history was, well, suspect.

After fan altercation, Reed's caddie out of Sunday singles

After fan altercation, Reed's caddie out of Sunday singles

Reed broke the unwritten rule of the team room after last year’s U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup when he criticized then-captain Jim Furyk and teammate Jordan Spieth, the only partner with whom Reed has ever won a Presidents or Ryder Cup match. Right or wrong, Reed’s concerns should have remained inside the team room, but Woods looked past the faux pas and brought Reed back into the fold.

It was supposed to be a new beginning for Captain America, but it’s quickly spiraled into an exercise in crisis management.

The week began on a bad note following Reed’s brush with the Rules of Golf at the Hero World Challenge. A video showed the 29-year-old rake away sand during two practice swings, which gave way to a two-stroke penalty plenty of social media handwringing. Reed only made things worse when he tried to explain that the camera angle didn’t accurately show what happened in the Bahamas.

Reed's swing coach will carry bag in Presidents Cup singles

Reed's swing coach will carry bag in Presidents Cup singles

Australia’s Cameron Smith didn’t call Reed a cheater, but the distinction was thin: “I know Pat pretty good, and he’s always been nice to me, so I don’t want to say anything bad about him. But for anyone that is cheating the rules, I’m not up for that,” he said.

Reed’s rules snafu has prompted a steady stream of creative comments from the Australian masses.

“Are you really going to make your caddie carry 14 clubs and a shovel?” asked one fan. “Patrick, there’s a camera over there, too,” added another when Reed hit into a bunker. “How was the sand, Patrick?” asked a third.

And that was all on the first hole Thursday.

The fun took a wrong turn on Day 3, however, when Reed’s caddie Kessler Karain said he pushed a fan for yelling at Reed, “You f***ing suck.” Following a lengthy meeting, officials decided to not allow Karain to caddie for Reed for Sunday’s singles frame.

Reed's caddie out after altercation with fan

Patrick Reed's caddie, Kessler Karain, got into an altercation with a fan Saturday at the Presidents Cup.

For many it was the last straw when it came to Reed, who has become a "cancer," according to one source inside the U.S. team room. He is wearing the same uniform, but some actions are indefensible, and team-room loyalties aren’t completely blind.

Woods took the only path available to him when asked if Reed had become a distraction. “We came here as a team. We rallied around our teammate, and we're excited about tomorrow,” he answered. The U.S. team certainly rallied, but time will tell if it was around the teammate.

Despite the jeers, these Australian galleries have been relatively tame, at least compared with those at Ryder Cup in France or the 2017 Presidents Cup in New Jersey. Reed’s plight is also entirely self-inflicted. Under normal circumstances, there’s no place in golf for the kind of abuse Reed has endured, but then these aren’t normal circumstances. Reed lives and dies by his outspoken persona and his status as an antihero. And when you bark at fans, they’re going to bark back. The crowd’s boorish behavior and Reed’s antics aren’t mutually exclusive. He invites the interaction, like during Friday’s foursome session, when he ignited the crowds by mimicking a shoveling motion in response to a heckler.

Watch: Reed does shovel dig, but loses match

Patrick Reed took some ribbing on Day 1 of the Presidents Cup and he gave some back to the Australian fans on Day 2.

He was on his way to a 3-and-2 loss and heads into Sunday 0-3 for the week. Stepping back, Reed is mired in a 1-6 team-play slump dating to Sunday at the ’17 Presidents Cup, which might also explain why things have boiled over this week.

Was the fan who faced Karian's ire over the line? Absolutely. But then a fragile spirit wouldn’t have started this beef. Webb Simpson, who pulled the short straw having to play three matches alongside Reed, is among the game’s most thoughtful souls and was undoubtedly mortified by many of the things he’s heard at Royal Melbourne, but none of those comments were directed at him.

This event needed a little contentiousness after so many lopsided outings, but having Reed in the team room has left some needing a shower. It was always going to be difficult working Reed back into the fold after Paris, but Woods could have never imagined this.

Perhaps Woods is a good enough captain and this is a good enough team to overcome what has become a toxic situation. Perhaps they can still win the cup. But regaining the moral high ground will be much more difficult.