Patrick Reed plays his role perfectly.
In golf’s current state of parity, there are plenty of great, young, American golfers: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler, to name a few. They’ve all successfully carved out their own hero-esque niches in the golf world, from the Golden Boy to PGA legacy to orange-clad fan favorite. Reed has carved out his own niche as well, but it’s anything but hero-esque. He’s a bit irreverent, something of a heel, and is perfectly happy to disrupt all of golf’s carefully contrived storylines, thank you very much. This weekend, on golf’s grandest stage, that disruption took the form of a win at the 82nd Masters tournament.
Sunday’s victory marked Reed’s first-ever major win and made him the ninth first-time major winner in the last 10 majors. He won just the way you’d expect, by burning down all the narratives that had been established coming into the weekend: Tiger back in the Masters field for the first time in three years, Rory McIlroy going for a career Grand Slam, Spieth trying to get over the 12th-hole-shaped monkey on his back, and Justin Thomas looking to solidify the run he started last summer with his own green jacket.
Instead, in came Reed, who just showed up at Augusta on Thursday, shot a 69, then followed that up with a 66 on Friday and a 67 on Saturday to give him the 54-hole lead and put him three shots ahead of his next closest competitor going into Sunday’s round. And he wasn’t done there.
Spieth played majestically on Sunday, tying the final-round course record at the Masters with a 64. He went 5-under through the first nine holes, which led CBS broadcaster Sir Nick Faldo to begin signaling the 62-watch alarms, and Spieth followed that up with some truly special holes on the back nine: a birdie on 12 followed by an “Are you kidding me?” birdie putt at 16; had it not been for an errant tree limb and a missed putt that led to a very pedestrian, human bogey on 18, his round could have been considered supernatural.
But all day long, Reed held on. When the roars for Spieth sounded around Augusta, Reed was listening. As Spieth crept up the leaderboard, drawing nearer and nearer to where Reed sat for much of the day at minus-14, Reed held steady. He found a way out of every jam—each of Reed’s three bogeys on the day was followed up by a birdie within the next two holes—and every errant shot he hit was quickly remedied.
He finished the day with a 71, his only round of the weekend not in the 60s, but it was exactly enough. Reed’s nickname is Captain America because of his stellar performances in international events, but on Sunday, he was Thanos, practically holding back his challengers with the palm of his hand.
A lot was made before (and during) Sunday’s round about the Reed-McIlroy matchup and their last Ryder Cup showdown. But Augusta National proved to be a much tougher opponent than anyone Reed could have faced head-to-head on Sunday, and his round reflected that. He started the day with a three-shot lead, but bogeyed the opening hole, seemingly giving his opponents a chance. He’d go on to finish the front nine at even par, but with the surging Spieth and a quietly resilient Fowler in front of him, the cracks were starting to show.
When Reed bogeyed no. 11, it looked like a prime opportunity for Spieth to make his move. But sure enough, right after the window opened, Reed slammed it shut again with birdies on 12 and 14. Each time Reed’s competitors thought they’d found a way in, he locked it down.
Reed is a matchplay god, sure enough, and a top-25 ranked player in the world. But he can also be a bull in a china shop or a toddler throwing a tantrum—demanding our attention even when our focus is trained elsewhere. He bowed after big putts and finger wagged à la Dikembe Mutombo when he and McIlroy battled at the 2016 Ryder Cup. He (jokingly) dropped Spieth’s name a few weeks ago when he felt he was being unfairly stonewalled by a rules official where Spieth might have had more luck. He wears red and black on Sundays in homage to Tiger. He even brought his Ryder Cup umbrella to Augusta.
Reed walked up to the 18th green while echos of cheers for Fowler—who’d birdied to get within one of Reed—still seemed to ring. His reception seemed to be just a little less warm, fitting of his place among his fellow young Americans. Reed may be a heel, but he’s a skilled one at that, and one who is starting to show up on some of golf’s biggest stages.
Currently the holders of all four major tournaments are Americans aged 27 and under. Starting with Brooks Koepka’s win at the U.S. Open, then Spieth’s victory at the Open Championship, followed by Thomas’s takeover at the PGA Championship, the young golfers on tour are all vying for golf superstardom. Sunday proved to be Reed’s day of reckoning, as he firmly inserted himself into the conversation and demonstrated that nothing scares him, even being a final-round leader at Augusta National.
Now Reed can no longer simply be categorized as a good guy to have on your team in matchplay. He’s a Masters champion, and I don’t think he’ll let anyone forget that any time soon.