THE hype surrounding the US Masters was unlike anything we had experienced in years. The build up to the first Major championship of the year was something else and the tournament itself proved just that.
One could safely say that there was almost everything going for it. There was a consensus that it would be an open event with any number of players in with a good shot of winning it.
The course was there, as it always is – ready to humble anyone who strayed a bit too far from the line. This year it would do so in record fashion for the number of strokes on a single hole.
Tiger Woods was a genuine contender again. Two top-five finishes in his two Tour starts prior to the trip to Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia saw to that. Phil Mickelson’s World Golf Championship (WGC) victory a few weeks before the Masters also added spice to what was a really tasty build-up.
The weather behaved very well – there were no delays, no rain and the back nine on Sunday afternoon was as riveting as it’s ever been. There were birdies galore, and a few eagles too.
The winner of the Green Jacket, Patrick Reed showed enough grit and determination when it mattered most to capture a first Major crown and write his own chapter in the annals of world golf.
In fact, the tournament started with just as much intrigue and the main protagonist was a young man who has endeared himself to the patrons – Jordan Spieth.
Coming to the Masters, where he has a victory, two runner-up spots and a tie for 11th to show from his four visits to Augusta, Spieth was one of the favourites – but not the favourite. That tag was shared by world number two Justin Thomas and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who was in red-hot form, the best it’s been for him in years.
Spieth lit up Augusta and at the end of an absorbing first day he was two in front of the chasing pack. He was looking every bit like the champion so many people see him as. His mid-range putting, the area of his game that has brought him the most consternation this season, was a thing of the past. The Texan was at his best on the course he loves the most. A six-under 66 is what it was all about.
Things can fall apart rather rapidly and without notice at Augusta, and on the second day that’s what Spieth endured.
He had a two-over 74 and left the door open. Reed stepped in with a 66 of his own to seize the initiative. He was two in front of Marc Leishman, four ahead of Henrik Stenson and five to the good on McIlroy and Spieth.
In the third round, what is often referred to as the Moving Day in tournament golf, it was McIlroy who made the most running. But despite this, Reed held his nerve and led by three going into the fourth and final round.
His playing partner would be McIlroy, who shot a third day 65. Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm had identical scores and were in the thick of things as well. Tommy Fleetwood weighed in with a 66 to also throw his name into the hat. Spieth had a one-under 71 and was nine shots off the pace.
Reed’s 67 was enough give him the advantage and it was one he would hold on to tightly and not relinquish, even under the testiest of times.
For all the expectations of McIlroy changing his fortunes at Augusta and completing a Grand Slam of Major titles, his efforts went down the drain with a two-over 74 in the last flight on Sunday.
It was also to prove the biggest day yet in Reed’s career as he held off the charges of Fowler, who finished with a 67 in second place, and Spieth, who stood on the threshold of matching the best round (63) at the Masters. He had a final day eight-under 64 – a bogey at the 18th thwarted his chance of history. All the same, it was an outstanding performance that drew plaudits from all over.
Fowler’s 67, which left him within one stroke of the winner, gave further notice that he has the game to win a Major.
Indeed, there is little doubt that when he is on song he can mix it with the best. Six birdies over his last 11 holes at Augusta on Sunday clearly illustrated the point.
One the most popular players on the global stage, Fowler said he looked forward to contending at the Majors again, and so he should.
For some reason, some of the American media went after Reed in the wake of his victory. They raised issues of his waywardness in his college days and harped on his difficulties with his estranged family, who it appears were upset with him marrying his wife, Justine.
But Reed’s resilience will forever keep him in golf folklore as a Major winner, regardless of what the media have to say about his private life.
His final round 71 gave him a 15-under-par 273 total and the coveted Green Jacket. He left the more illustrious Woods and Mickelson, tied for 23rd and 36th respectively, to look in from the outside.
In a week when he moved from 24th in the world rankings to 11th, he also gave notice that he could well turnout to be one of the game’s leading players for some time to come. He certainly showed that in a tournament which was laden with all sorts of story lines from the get-go.