AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) - Patrick Reed fought off furious back-nine challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler to record a one-shot victory at the U.S. Masters on Sunday, trading in his ‘Captain America’ cap for a Green Jacket.
The final round began with Reed holding a three-shot advantage over Rory McIlroy, but while the Northern Irishman’s challenge faded Reed had to hold off his hard-charging U.S. Ryder Cup team mates to claim his first major championship.
Needing a two-putt par from 26 feet at the 18th to clinch the title, Reed ran his first putt four feet past the hole, took a deep breath and held his nerve rolling a knee-knocker into the cup for a one-under 71 that ended Fowler’s hopes of a playoff.
The fiery leader of recent U.S. Ryder and Presidents Cup efforts, Reed displayed plenty of the same brash spirit that earned him the ‘Captain America’ moniker while adding his name to the list of Masters champions.
“Today was definitely probably the hardest mentally a round of golf could possibly be,” said Reed, who posted a 15-under 273 total. “It was going to be tough, anytime trying to close off a golf tournament is really tough.”
Fowler, who remains without a major title, had put the pressure on with a back nine charge that featured six birdies over his final 11 holes, including one at the last, but his 67 and 14-under total would not be enough.
Before Fowler took up the challenge of overhauling Reed, it was Spieth leading the chase with a sizzling eight-under 64 that matched the lowest final round at a Masters to finish two shots back.
Sitting nine shots off the pace at the start of the day, Spieth was an after thought as spectators filed into Augusta National but was once again in the Masters spotlight when the Green Jacket was up for grabs.
In four Masters appearances, Spieth also has two runner-up finishes and a tie for 11th last year.
“With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible,” said Spieth, whose only blemish was bogey at the 18th after his tee shot hit a branch. “But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
While Reed had established his championship credentials with five PGA Tour wins and runnerup finish at the last major the 2017 PGA Championships at Quail Hollow, Reed, who had never had round under 70 at Augusta National, was not rated among the hot favourites when the year’s first major got underway.
But after opening the tournament with three straight rounds in the 60s Reed had everyone’s attention.
Only is final round 71 kept Reed from writing his name in the Masters record books as the first golfer to post four sub-70 rounds.
“You know, just kind of one of those things that you expect that trying to go win your first major that people are going to make runs and it’s not going to be easy,” said Reed. “You’re going to have to go out and play a good round of golf and shoot under par.”
McIlroy, three shots back and playing in the final pair with Reed, had to get off to a quick start and he did just that, chopping two shots off the deficit in just two holes.
Reed sent his opening tee shot deep into the pines and opened his account with a bogey and McIlroy amped up the pressure with a birdie at the second while Reed settled for a par as the American’s advantage narrowed to one stroke.
But the rollercoaster ride had only just begun as the third hole saw a two-shot swing back to Reed, who birdied the hole while McIlroy took a bogey to put both men back where they started.
While Reed steadied himself McIlroy unraveled, taking bogeys at five and eight to drop into a pack that included Spaniard Jon Rahm and Fowler four back of the front-running Reed.
McIlroy, who squandered a four-shot lead at Augusta National in 2011 by shooting a final round of 80, was out of the race by the turn and will have to wait another year for his chance to become the first European to complete the career grand slam.
“Just wasn’t meant to be,” shrugged the Northern Irishman, after slumping to a final round two-over 74 to finish six shots back of the leader. “At least I put myself in the position. That’s all I wanted to do.
“The last four years I’ve had top 10s but I haven’t been close enough to the lead. Today I got myself there.
“I didn’t quite do enough. But, you know, come back again next year and try.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar/Peter Rutherford