AUGUSTA, Ga. – Every sport has its heroes and villains, and the genesis for those reputations are as varied as the characters who play the part. At some point, the roles become inseparable from the person performing, and we forget why we loved or loathed the guy in the first place.
So here was Patrick Reed, barrel-chested and more, lumbering up the 18th fairway Sunday evening at Augusta National Golf Club. Through a typically enthralling final round at the Masters, Reed had heard cheers for his introduction dwarfed by those of his playing partner, Rory McIlroy. He had embraced the explosions from around the golf course, roars for Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm.
"That's another thing," Reed said, "that played into my hand."
He wore fuschia on Sunday. He would feel just as comfortable in black. The 27-year-old Texan who makes no apologies for his words or his deeds needs now to not apologize for his play, either. That walk up 18 on Sunday resulted in the most delicate two-putt par of his life, the par that closed out a 71 that left him not just one shot better than Fowler, but the new Masters champion.
That status makes it time to introduce Reed to those who might not follow golf except for those April strolls through the azaleas. He has long been a cantankerous type, and he was kicked out of one college (Georgia) only to lead another (Augusta State, right here in town) to two national championships. He won a prominent tournament at a young age, and immediately – and prematurely – designated himself among the top five players in the world. He is no longer in touch with his parents, instead leaning on his wife and her brother, who serves as his caddie. And he is the kind of person who – when he enters the final round of a major leading for the first time – spends all morning watching the sport's pundits analyze what's to come. What he heard Sunday: McIlroy, McIlroy, McIlroy.
"Not only did it fuel my fire a little bit," Reed said, "but also, it just takes the pressure off of me and adds it back to him."
There's the villain, flipping the script on McIlroy, the only player within three shots of him when the day began, the guy going for the career Grand Slam. But what Reed did in absorbing the charges Sunday, then answering each one, shows what his colleagues and competitors have understood for some time: He is dogged – tough, even – and doesn't really care what you think of how he goes about his business.
"Patrick, he's not scared," said Fowler, whose history with Reed goes back to junior golf. ". . . 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."
Sunday, no one did. A golf tournament is made up of a million decisions and breaks, both for and against, and to distill it to one or two moments – after Reed took 273 strokes over the course of four days – might be unfair. But what the heck? Check out these two.
By the time the final pairing reached Amen Corner, McIlroy had fallen victim to a balky putter. He was an afterthought. The charge came instead from Spieth, playing four groups ahead. Spieth's putter, which has occasionally and surprisingly belied him this year, instead grew scalding. Spieth's nemesis at Augusta National, the hole on which he made a quadruple bogey in 2016 to cement a collapse, is the 12th. When he cleared Rae's Creek Sunday, he raised his arms in mock triumph – but then drained a tricky 25-footer from above the hole, pulling to within three of Reed. So it was Spieth who was at the center of Reed's first – how to put this? Important moment? Sure, yes, absolutely. But lucky break? Well, that applies too.
At the par-5 13th, Reed stood 188 yards away for his second shot. This is where he built his advantage over the course of the week, by slaying the par 5s – 13 under on those four holes alone over the first three rounds. So going for the jugular here made sense. He wondered about whether to lean into a 7-iron or take something off.
"That was probably the only golf swing I had probably the last two days that I wasn't fully committed to," Reed said. Given that approach, the result made sense. The shot barely cleared that same, devilish Rae's Creek that snakes in front of both the 12th and 13th greens.
In so many situations, Reed would have been dead. A ball like his so often trickles to the bottom of the brook, necessitating a drop, invoking anguish. But Reed's ball somehow found a family of friendly blades of grass.
"I was lucky," he said, accurately.
As Reed approached his first bit of good fortune, Spieth was ahead at the par-3 16th, where he had hit a blah tee shot. But his putt of some 35 feet tracked directly to the hole. The roar reverberated. Spieth turned to his caddie, Michael Geller, and said quietly, "Are you kidding me?" He began the day 5 under, nine shots back. Now he was at 14 under – tied for the lead. "I almost pulled off the impossible," Spieth said.
The two men at the top, though, approached their tasks with completely opposite strategies. Reed has never met a leader board he won't study as if for a physics final. Spieth said he began Sunday too far back to care. "Didn't look once today," Spieth said. He was tied for the lead at the Masters, and didn't know. Reed was tied for the lead at the Masters, and knew exactly who was coming from which angle.
"Every time I looked at the board, they always threw up a number," Reed said, "and it kind of always seemed to get closer and closer to me. It's kind of nerve-racking." Reed's second bit of good fortune came when his nerves might have been frazzled. By this point, he had made a steadying birdie at 14, and Spieth had hit a poor tee shot at 18 – one that clipped a limb on the left side of the fairway and was knocked back to the base of the tee box. The ensuing bogey – which included a makeable uphill par putt that he couldn't hole – left him with 64 for the day, but at just 13 under. Reed was on 17, leading by two.
There, a drive off the right side of the fairway left him blocked out, and he punched his approach to the front left edge of the green. Here, he faced a putt that was 90 feet if it was a foot. The idea: the best two-putt of his life. He brought the putter head back and slung the ball across the surface. It was moving hard, moving much too fast. And then . . . it hit the cup and popped up. Instead of running maybe 20 feet by, he had six feet left for his par. He made it.
"Guys have chipped in for eagle, balls have stayed out of the water, there's hit pins when they're going off," Spieth said. "When you win, you get these kind of breaks. And it's happened to me every single time I've won."
What was left was daunting, because Fowler made a nails birdie at the last to complete a sterling 67 and get to 14 under, his effort to, as he said, "keep P-Reed honest out there, at least making him earn it." Reed's remaining task: par the uphill, dogleg right, 465-yard par-4 18th at Augusta National to win his first major.
"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?"
He can, it turns out, handle it all. Repeatedly afterward, Reed spoke of his victory as his "first major," as if he knows more will follow. Sound brash?
"I don't ever regret anything I really say," he said. By now, why would he? On Sunday night, how he is cast by the public or the press didn't much matter. He slipped on a green jacket, raised a trophy, and joined a club from which he will never be expelled. Hero or villain, he is a Masters champion, and he doesn't much care if you know he expects there will be more – perhaps many more – to come.