AUGUSTA (Georgia) • Sunday at the Masters began with Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy in a final-round pairing that resurrected memories of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club, where Reed got the better of McIlroy in a riveting singles match.
It ended with Reed staving off the challenges of two team-mates from that victorious US team, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, to win at Augusta National.
He closed with a one-under 71 for a total of 15-under 273 to clinch his first Major victory.
He finished one stroke ahead of Fowler, who birdied six of his last 11 holes to post a 67, and two in front of 2015 champion Spieth, who briefly tied Reed's lead before the cracking of a tree branch at the last halted his charge. Spieth nearly erased a nine-stroke deficit with a 64.
"In the past, I put too much pressure on myself," said Reed, whose previous Masters record comprised two missed cuts, a share of 49th and a tie for 22nd.
"I went out there and I tried so hard to get the ball in the hole, I tried so hard to hit the perfect shots. Going into this week I was just like, 'Hey, it's golf. Go play'."
McIlroy, a four-time Major winner who needs a Masters victory to complete a career Grand Slam, played as if he was putting too much pressure on himself to hit perfect drives and perfect putts. On Sunday, he did neither.
All four reigning Major champions - Patrick Reed (27), Brooks Koepka (27), Jordan Spieth (24), and Justin Thomas (24) - are Americans who are 27 years old or younger.
He missed five putts from 10 feet or less on the front nine, most notably a four-footer for eagle at the par-five second. McIlroy played the front nine in one-over on his way to a 74 and a tie for fifth alongside Henrik Stenson (70), Bubba Watson (69) and Cameron Smith (66).
"I think 100 per cent I can come back and win here," McIlroy said.
"I'll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better, whether it be a mindset or, I don't know, I just didn't have it today."
McIlroy and Spieth were both favoured by the galleries in Augusta - a short drive from where Reed had led Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA Division I titles. But that only served to spur the world No. 24 on.
"When Rory walked up to the (first) tee, his cheer was a little louder," said Reed, adding that he was also fired up by analysts predicting a win for McIlroy.
"But that's another thing that kind of played into my hand. Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit, but also, it just takes the pressure off me and adds it back to him."
Reed knows he is unlikely to win a popularity contest. Before he transferred to Augusta State, he was at the University of Georgia, where he was accused of cheating and stealing from team-mates.
Many scoffed when he proclaimed himself a top-five player in the world in 2014.
Three of his supporters - parents Bill and Jeannette and sister Hannah - were not on the course on Sunday even though they are Augusta residents. Reed has been estranged from his family for years, but his mother was in tears when his final putt dropped.
The 31/2-footer on the 18th green was just one of many clutch putts Reed made down the stretch.
"I can't believe my son is the Masters champion," his mother told golf.com. "It's surreal."
When asked if it was bittersweet not to share Masters glory with his family, Reed's reply was noticeably lacking in emotion.
"I mean, I'm just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments," the 27-year-old said.
NYTIMES, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN