AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed won’t have to wait until next April to defend his title in the Masters.
Even as he slipped into a green jacket, he was perceived more as a villain than a victor.
The loudest cheer from the first tee at Augusta National was for Rory McIlroy, who played with Reed in the final round. The loudest cheer on the 18th green was for Rickie Fowler, who finished ahead of Reed.
The mood all afternoon screamed out, “Anyone but Patrick.”
Reed had the last shot, a 3-foot par putt for a one-shot victory and his first major championship.
All he did was play a brand of golf that champions from any era would embrace.
He seized control on Saturday with two eagles on the back nine, the second a 3-wood from just under 270 yards into the wet, heavy air that barely cleared the water in front of the 15th green. From there, he chipped in from 80 feet. And on Sunday, he heard the cheers ahead of him for Jordan Spieth and answered with a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 12 and an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 14.
That’s how you win majors and earn respect.
The applause, however, sounded more like acceptance than celebration. Instead of looking ahead to how much more this Masters champion might achieve, the inclination was to look into the past of a flawed character in a green jacket.
Reed wasn’t anyone’s favorite Sunday outside of his immediately family, and that includes parents with whom he has had no contact for more than five years. They live a few miles from Augusta National.
That’s not unusual at the Masters.
Danny Willett wasn’t the patron’s choice in 2016 when he took advantage of Spieth’s misfortunes at the 12th hole. Charles Coody played the best golf in 1971 when the Masters could have had Jack Nicklaus or 23-year-old Johnny Miller.
Even without a checkered past at two colleges — Georgia and Augusta State — or Reed’s brash claim after his third PGA Tour victory that he considered himself among the top five players in golf, the role of villain fit as snugly as that green jacket.
There was McIlroy — honest, refreshing, talented — who already had paid his dues at Augusta National with that final-round 80 in 2011 and now lacked only this major to complete the career Grand Slam. It wasn’t Reed’s fault that McIlroy couldn’t buy a putt.
Then it was Spieth, who says and does all the right things off the course, making a Sunday charge that even Nicklaus could appreciate. He was one swing away from the lowest final round and perhaps the greatest comeback in Masters history. His tee shot was too far left and hit a tree limb.
And finally it was Fowler’s turn. If he isn’t the best player never to have won a major, he is the most popular player without a major by a wide margin. Fowler hit all the right shots, especially on the 18th hole for a birdie that gave the gallery hope and left Reed no room for a mistake.
Reed loves a moment like this.
“It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it,’” Reed said.
He had it all, except the affection that appears to be harder to find than the wide fairways of Augusta National.
Reed didn’t care when someone asked Saturday night why fans don’t embrace him. “Why don’t you ask them?” he said. “I’m out here to do my job, and that’s to play golf. I feel like if I’m doing it the right way, then that’s all that really matters.”
Reed is part of the youth movement, primarily because of his age (27). The consummate team player can be a bit of a loner. He does his work quietly on the range, rarely without his wife along for observations. He doesn’t have regular partners for practice.
You won’t find him on any social media channels during spring break in the Bahamas. He wears boots, not flip-flops.
And yes, he has flaws.
He inevitably has let people down, even if he was never a hero to legions of fans.
There were plenty of American fans cheering for him at Hazeltine in 2016 when he matched McIlroy shot for shot and at one point wagged his finger at him. That finger was pressed against the lips when he had the audacity to shush a Scottish crowd during Ryder Cup debut in Gleneagles.
Top 5 in the world? Maybe at annoying people.
“He’s a member of the Masters Club now. He’ll have a green jacket forever,” Spieth said. “His name is etched in history, and I’m sure he’s going to carry everything that he went through today and go into Paris and try and win a Ryder Cup on European soil.”
They love him in red, white and blue.
Perhaps one of these days, they’ll come to embrace him in green.