This is why it’s a Masters Sunday. Because nothing is simple. Because a final round that’s expected to be a two-man race becomes a three-man race and then a five-man race and then ... wait, where did Jordan Spieth come from?
This is why it’s a Masters Sunday. Because we don’t expect Rory McIlroy to fade away again, even though, OK, we kind of expect Rory McIlroy to fade away. Because Jordan Spieth, who ends his third round so far out of it (Nine shots. NINE shots?) that he says he’s looking forward to a rare “stress‑free” round at Augusta National, shoots a 64 and tempts both the course record and an historic comeback win.
Because players are given a chance to redefine their careers, and maybe themselves.
One year after Sergio Garcia, a human dartboard for perceived career underachievement, won the first major of his career to shut everybody up, it was Patrick Reed’s turn to make the golf world swallow its hate.
Drop-kicked from Georgia to Augusta State, seemingly reviled by pros and former college teammates alike, mocked by most for declaring himself one of the world’s top five golfers after winning only his third tournament in 2014, Reed went through Masters week with a calm demeanor, an occasional smile and mostly a game that will force everyone to take a second look.
The 27-year-old followed three rounds in the 60s over Augusta National’s sometimes unforgiving course with a stable 71 Sunday to hold on and win his first major championship and a green jacket, just a few miles from his college campus.
So take that.
He survived the buildup leading to the pairing with McIlroy, whom he went head-to-head with at the Ryder Cup.
He survived watching the Golf Channel in the morning and seeing every analyst except one pick the more popular McIlroy to win.
He survived an improbable run by Spieth, who seemed determined to exorcise his back-nine demons from two years ago. Spieth birdied five holes on the front nine and for the ninth time in the round on the hole No. 16 to briefly tie Reed the lead at 14-under.
“It was kind of nerve wracking -- I was glad he ran out of holes,” said Reed, playing three holes behind.
He survived a final charge by Rickie Fowler, whose birdie on the 18th closed the lead to one shot.
He survived multiple re-tellings of his life story, mostly the ugly stuff, including the dysfunction in his family.
He won anyway.
This was a career-changing week for Reed. Winning the Masters gives him a lifetime pass to Augusta National and forever changes his resume. “Growing up,” he said, “you always think, ‘This putt is to win the Masters. This putt is to win the green jacket.’ That’s how special it is. Today honestly was the hardest mentally a round of golf can be.”
It also should be a life-changing week, considering how well he handled the pressure, the criticism and even the questions in the press conference following the win.
Question: How did it feel having crowds cheer louder for McIlroy, who’s from Northern Ireland, than you, who went to school down the road?
Answer: “It took some pressure off me. In the end it’s going to be who’s going to be able to handle the pressure.”
Question: Do you wish you were more popular?
Answer: “I don’t think it’s as much about popularity with fans as it was Rory’s been in position to win here before and a lot of people want him to win the grand slam.”
Question: Do you regret saying four years ago you were a top-five player?
Answer: “I don’t regret anything I really say. I stand by my comments.”
It ain’t bragging if you back it up.
Reed wasn’t as smooth moving around the course Sunday as he was in the first three rounds, when he recorded 18 birdies and scores of 69, 66 and 67. But he didn’t have to be. After a bogey on the 11th hole, he responded with birdies on 12 and 14, after Spieth (playing three holes in front of him) had put on a Sunday charge to tie.
Speith understands the pressure Reed felt going into the day because he felt it two years ago when he crumbled on the back nine.
“It’s very difficult to start from the lead, especially a three- or four-shot,” he said. “As much as (Reed) wanted to put the pressure back on Rory, that is where the pressure is. You are expected to win. And that's a very difficult thing to sleep on. And he came out and obviously played a fantastic last seven holes.”
Reed’s big exhale came when he maintained a two-shot lead over Fowler by saving par on 17 with five-foot putt, after which he let go with a fist pump. That meant he only needed to par the 18th after Fowler birdied the last hole.
Fowler. Spieth. Whatever happened to the storyline everybody expected: Reed vs. McIroy, Ryder Cup redux?
It was supposed to be a simple Sunday. Reed was at 14-under. McIlroy was 10-under. Everybody else was out of sight, out of mind.
This is what Spieth said late Saturday: “I get to go out for one of my only stress‑free rounds that I've ever really played at Augusta National and enjoy the walk.”
Whatever. He birdied the first two holes and six holes on the front nine. Hello, leaderboard. Serene golf. Good golf.
Meanwhile, the two guys who were supposed to rule the day stumbled out of the gate. Reed pulled his first tee shot into the pine straw. McIlroy pushed far right into the trees. Both hit their second shots in the bunker.
The anticipated battle for first place quickly turned into a Duke-Wake Forest football game.
McIlroy was a human rollercoaster: par-birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey-par. He never made a charge and shot 2-over for the day, finishing five shots and a mile back. Still Rory.
Spieth made it exciting. Then came his first big mistake: His tee shot at 18 clipped a tree limb and dropped to the ground after just 177 yards. He recovered with his next two shots to give himself a chance for par, but missed an eight-foot putt, leaving him with a 64 and 13-under for the tournament. Done.
This day would belong to Reed.
His wife was there to hug him. His parents and his sister, who live in Augusta, were not.
Question: Was it bittersweet that all of his family members weren’t there?
Answer: “I’m just out here to play golf and to try to win golf tournaments.”
He could have gotten mad. He didn’t. This week would be just about golf for him. Everybody else can say and think whatever they want.