By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Patrick Reed became famous playing for his country. He won for himself Sunday and became a Masters champion. It was never easy, just the way Reed likes it. Rory McIlroy came after him early. Jordan Spieth roared to life with a final-round charge and briefly caught Reed with a 35-foot birdie putt. The last challenge came from Rickie Fowler, who birdied the last hole to leave Reed no room for error. Reed never flinched throughout a raucous afternoon at Augusta National.
Clinging to a one-shot lead, his 25-foot putt down the slippery slope on the 18th green ran 3 feet by the hole as Reed pressed down both hands, begging it to stop. From there, the 27-year-old Texan calmly rolled in the par putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory. “To have to par the last hole to win my first major, it definitely felt right,” Reed said from Butler cabin, right before Sergio Garcia helped him into a green jacket. The loudest cheers were for everyone else. Reed earned their respect with two big birdie putts on the back nine, one crucial par putt and plenty of grit.
He also had a little luck when his 80-foot putt across the 17th green hit the hole, keeping it only 6 feet away. He made that for par to stay in control. Reed won for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career, though he was best known for the trophies he shared at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is ferocious in match play, especially the team variety, and his singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup led to the nickname of Captain America. Captain America is now the Masters champion.
“He’s not scared. I think you guys have seen that previous from the Ryder Cups and the way he plays,” said Fowler, who closed with a 67. “He won’t back down. I don’t necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back into the tournament. You have to go catch him.” Fowler did his best with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, and an 8-foot birdie on the final hole. It still wasn’t enough. Fowler was runner-up for the third time in a major. He left the scoring cabin when Reed tapped in for par.
“Glad I at least made the last one, make him earn it,” Fowler said with a grin as he waited to greet the newest major champion. “You had to do it didn’t you?” Reed told him as they exchanged a hug. “You had to birdie the last.” Spieth put up the most unlikely fight and was on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history. He started nine shots behind going into the final round, and was inches away on two shots from a chance at another green jacket. His tee shot on the 18th clipped the last branch in his way, dropping his ball some 267 yards from the green.
His 8-foot par putt for a record-tying 63 narrowly missed on the right. He had to settle for a 64. “I think I’ve proven to myself and to others that you never give up,” Spieth said. “I started the round nine shots back and I came out with the idea of just playing the golf course and having a lot of fun doing it and try to shoot a low round and finish the tournament strong and see what happens, if something crazy happens.” McIlroy, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for a shot at the career Grand Slam. Trailing by three shots to start the final round, he closed to within one shot after two holes.
That was as close as he came. McIlroy’s putter betrayed him, and he was never a factor on the back nine. He closed with a 74 and tied for fifth. The gallery was clearly behind McIlroy, even though Reed led Augusta State to a pair of NCAA titles and briefly lived in Augusta.
He was met with polite applause on the first tee. The throaty cheer was for McIlroy, and it looked as though the 28-year-old from Northern Ireland atone himself from shooting 80 in the final round and losing a four-shot lead. Reed scrambled for a bogey on the opening hole.
He failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 second as McIlroy had a 4-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead. McIlroy missed badly, a sign of what would to come. He missed four putts inside 10 feet on the front nine, and he missed a 3-foot par on the 14th. Different about this victory for Reed was the fuchsia shirt he wore as part of a Nike script. Reed always
wears black pants and a red shirt because that’s what Tiger Woods does, and Reed has long modeled his mental game after Woods.”Be stubborn,” he once said about learning by watching Woods.
Reed went to the back nine with a four-shot lead over four players, and they all had their chances. That included Jon Rahm, the 23-year-old from Spain, whose chances ended when he went after the flag on the par-5 15th and came up short in the water. He shot 69 and finished fourth. Reed’s only bogey on the back nine was at No. 11 from a tee shot into the trees. He answered with a 25-foot birdie on the 12th, and a shot into 8 feet at No. 14 for a birdie that broke the tie with Spieth. He made all pars from there. That’s all he needed. He became the fourth straight Masters champion to capture his first major.
Reed once claimed after winning a World Golf Championship at Doral that he was a top 5 player in the world, which subjected him to ridicule. This victory moves him to No. 11. It also comes with a green jacket, which earns far more respect and notoriety.