Standing on the tee box preparing to play what he hoped would be his final hole in a Masters triumph, Patrick Reed heard a roar at Augusta National’s 18th green.
Obscured by the trees on the dogleg hole, he had to guess what happened.
There were two players in the pairing ahead: Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm.
Reed checked the leaderboards incessantly Sunday, as he does every round. After a par save at 17, he knew he led Fowler by two. Four shots behind, Rahm was of no concern.
It had to be a Fowler birdie that caused such ferocious cheers, Reed concluded, because nothing about Sunday in the Masters is easy when you’re the target in a shockingly pink shirt.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Reed said, “It was just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it. Everyone knows you have the talent, but do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?’ ”
The answer is that few in the 82 editions of the Masters have withstood and prevailed against such an onslaught of talent in the tournament’s final hours.
Fowler birdied the last hole to shoot 5-under-par 67. Jordan Spieth fired an incredible 64 — equaling the lowest score in a Masters final round — and came from nine shots back to forge a tie on the back nine. And yet the 27-year-old Reed never truly seemed in trouble.
Even when Reed needed a par at the 18th with two putts, and had a dicey first roll from above the hole, he looked like he was meant to be in the moment.
He coaxed in the final four-foot putt and pumped both fists, finishing a 71 to become the fourth straight golfer to make the Masters his first major win.
With a 15-under total, Reed beat his U.S. Ryder Cup teammates Fowler and Spieth by one and two shots, respectively. Rahm (69) was fourth at 11 under.
Those three players Reed held off rank among the top six in the world. Reed entered the week at No. 24 and moved up to 11th with the victory.
Only seventh-ranked Rory McIlroy truly faltered, shooting 74 while playing with Reed in the final group to finish tied for fifth at 9 under.
“We did everything we could,” Fowler said. “And Patrick went out and outplayed all of us this week, and he earned it. So, you’ve got to give it to him.”
Reed, who always has exuded a supreme confidence, acknowledged while sitting in his new green jacket, “It was definitely harder than I thought it was going to be.
“The way those guys played towards the end … having to go shoot under par on my final round of your first major to win, it was hard. It was awesome and satisfying to make the clutch putts I did on the back nine.”
Reed made only four birdies on the day after he had 18 in the previous three rounds, along with two eagles. But his two on the back nine were huge — a 22-footer at the par-three 12th and an eight-footer at the par-four 14th. He played the par-fives in 13 under for the week, but didn’t birdie any of the four on Sunday.
Soft conditions from rain on Saturday and little wind on an unseasonably cool day made Augusta vulnerable to the world’s top players, and they mostly rifled iron shots with little fear of disaster.
Well out in front of Reed on the course, Paul Casey challenged the tournament record of 63 by getting to 9 under through 15 holes and ended up shooting 65. Tony Finau made six straight birdies on the back nine. Charley Hoffman celebrated an ace at No. 16.
It was clear that if anybody could put pressure on Reed, wild things were bound to happen. And they did.
Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ who now has four top-three finishes here in five starts, was so convinced he had no chance at the outset that he vowed to not look at the leaderboard all day, and he said he never did until the end.
“Honest to God,” he said.
He was playing with one of his closest friends, Justin Thomas. They might as well have been playing for beer money.
“With eight people ahead of me starting the day, to get that much help and shoot a fantastic round was nearly impossible,” Spieth said. “But I almost pulled off the impossible.”
Spieth birdied five holes on the front to shoot 31, but he was still three shots behind Reed when he made the turn.
Then came a 27-foot birdie conversion in the elbow of Amen Corner at the 12th. It was an enormous boost at the hole where Spieth drowned two balls in Rae’s Creek in his 2016 collapse.
“Really cool,” Spieth said. “To stand in that kind of pressure and hit a shot to the safe zone, to knock that putt in was massive.”
Spieth followed with birdies at par-fives 13 and 15, and when he drained a 33-foot birdie at 16 he caught Reed and the crowd seemed ready to carry him home.
But Spieth couldn’t convert an 18-foot birdie try at 17, and at 18, his drive clipped a tree branch and left him a monstrous 267 yards from the hole.
“I want to go back and hit that tee shot again,” Spieth said after he signed his scorecard.
He remarkably managed to give himself an eight-foot par putt to get to within one, but missed by a fraction. Spieth finally looked at the board.
“Pretty gutted at the finish,” he said.
Fowler’s charge was nearly as remarkable. He was 1 over for the day through seven holes, but closed with birdies on six of the last 11.
“I saw Jordan was off and running today,” Fowler said of his good friend. “So to see that was kind of a kick in the butt.”
He was two behind Reed when he stepped to the 18th tee and became the only player among the top eight to make birdie when he converted from seven feet.
“Nice to get one at the last and keep him honest,” Fowler said, adding with a smile, “and to beat out Jordan for solo second.”
The finish was Fowler’s best in the Masters, but he’s yet to win a major amid eight top-five finishes.
“Yeah, it’s going to hurt,” Fowler said, “but I try to look at things kind of more the glass half full. It’s a step in the right direction.”