AUGUSTA, Ga. — One of the messages Patrick Reed received for his hard-earned Masters victory came from Tiger Woods, who added a personal touch to his tweet of congratulations.
“At worst you have assured yourself a captain’s pick for next year’s Presidents Cup,” he wrote.
That’s still 20 months away in Australia and on nobody’s mind except for Woods’, mainly because he’s the U.S. captain for the 2019 matches. Much closer on the calendar is the Ryder Cup in France at the end of September. Reed moved to the top of the standings by capturing his first major.
If he wasn’t already a lock, he is now.
For the last four years, the Ryder Cup has defined Reed’s success in golf. He earned his way onto the last two teams by winning tournaments, including a World Golf Championship at Doral and a FedEx Cup playoff event at Bethpage. And as much as Reed boasted after the 2014 victory at Doral that he considered himself one of the top five players in the world, he didn’t win enough to back that up.
That’s why his reputation was built more on playing for his flag than for himself. He was the Ryder Cup rookie who brashly pressed his finger to his lips to shush the crowds in Scotland when he was unbeaten in four matches, and who wagged his finger at Rory McIlroy at Hazeltine when he buried big putts on top of him.
Reed had never registered a top 10 in any of the biggest events until a runner-up finish in the PGA Championship last summer, and even then he didn’t have a chance to win when playing the 18th hole. His record was even more suspect at the Masters. Reed had played 12 rounds at Augusta National without ever breaking 70, and only two of those rounds were under par.
One week changed everything.
The guy who lives for red, white and blue is now associated with Masters green.
“He’s always been a fighter,” Rickie Fowler said after his third runner-up finish in a major. “He’s always been good at match play. It seems like a whole new animal comes out when he gets in Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. It’s nice that he’s on our team.”
Fowler showed some fight, too. He had six birdies over the last 11 holes, including an 8-foot birdie on the final hole that cut the lead to one shot and forced Reed to hit all the right shots on the 18th hole.
That didn’t do any good. Reed was solid as ever. The bigger the moment, the better he seems to play.
The question is whether that translates to more victories, and more majors.
“The Ryder Cup, it’s a totally different type of pressure,” Reed said. “You go to a Ryder Cup and you feel like you have a whole nation on your back. If you win or lose your match, you still have a bunch of other guys there that could pick it up.”
Reed was known for his toughness, but that didn’t always translate to stroke play.
Maybe that’s why when he turned on the television Sunday morning with a three-shot lead, he heard plenty of flattering observations about his game without anyone thinking he was going to win. In five years on the PGA Tour, he had only five victories. That might explain why he was an afterthought in so many conversations about the players in their 20s who seem to be taking over.
They won’t forget him now.
Not after he recovered from a shaky start — 1 over through 11 holes — by never flinching among a chorus of roars along the back nine at Augusta National. Reed made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 12. Jordan Spieth ran off four birdies in five holes to tie for the lead, and Reed answered with a birdie on the 14th.
He had to get up-and-down behind the green on the par-5 15th for par. He had to make a 6-footer for par on the 17th. And he left his approach to the 18th above the hole, and while he had two putts to win, the par putt was enough to make anyone nervous.
“It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it,’” Reed said. “Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent. But do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?”
Reed grew up wanting to be just like Woods, inside and out.
He prefers to wear black pants and a red shirt on Sunday, though that was scrapped when Nike wanted its clients (except Woods) to wear a fuchsia shirt for the final day at the Masters. More than how he looked, he wanted to mimic the mental side of Woods. He was asked a little more than three years ago what that entailed.
“Be stubborn. Focus on what you’re doing, not anyone around you,” Reed said. “He was just so focused and determined to play well. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
That’s what Reed did on Sunday at Augusta National.
That’s why he’s a Masters champion, his new identity. That probably won’t hurt him in France, either.