When the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship took place at Doral, the boast by organizers was of the "top 50 players in the world" jousting for the cup. And "top 50" was code for Tiger, Rory, Phil and other assorted first-name-only dudes.
Little did anyone know it would be a brand-new first name-only player who would go wire-to-wire to win Doral for his third PGA Tour win at age 23, metaphorically slapping the bumper sticker on his courtesy car that reads: "HOW'S MY PLAYING? DIAL 1-800-EAT-DUST."
Yep, that's Patrick's game.
If you have to ask who Patrick is, you haven't been following the exploits of the thick-forearmed, scruffy-faced, necklace-wearing Patrick Reed, who alternately laughed off and sweated through challenges from the world's best to fire a final-round 72 to back up Saturday's 69 and bag his third PGA Tour win in the past seven months.
He not only joined the shortest of first-name lists – only Tiger, Rory, Phil and Sergio have also won three Tour events by age 23 – he also became the youngest winner ever of a WGC event. And he also told us all, on national TV, that we shouldn't be surprised. After declaring himself a "top 5 player in the world" Saturday, he was asked to clarify on Sunday by NBC's Steve Sands. Quoth the stocky fella:
"I've worked so hard. I've won a lot in my junior career. I did great in my amateur career. I went 6-0 in match play in NCAAs. We won NCAAs two years in a row (at Augusta State). I got third individually one year at NCAAs. Now, I have three wins on the PGA Tour. I just don't see a lot of guys who've done that, besides Tiger and the other legends of the game. I believe in myself. I feel like I'm one of the top five players in the world. I feel like I've proven myself."
And thus ended the first-ever post-victory golf rant, only missing an early 1980s-SNL/Eddie Murphy coda – "I'M GUMBY, DAMMIT!"
Somewhere, "Three Win" Jimmy Walker grimly nodded, tipped his cowboy hat and said, "I'm not much for the talkin.' I'll see y'all at Augusta National. Good day, now."
Listen, if Tiger Woods is going to turn 2014 into one long discussion of lumbar rehab sessions, and if Phil Mickelson is just whittling wood until the Masters, and if Rory McIlroy is still in a suspended state of agonizing self-exploration, we might as well have some sort of entertainment factor on the Tour. Reed, to his credit, provides it.
While most expected the youngster to crumble on Doral's trouble-laden test, to melt in the Sunday glare of a WGC event where all the guys on the range have really expensive watches and the finest tailored slacks, Reed wasn't having it. This is the guy who posted three consecutive 63s at the Humana Challenge in January, a scoring record that took the phrase "golfing your ball" to outlandish heights. He's also the guy who hit one of the great shots of 2013, the choke-down 7-iron from under a tree in a playoff with Jordan Spieth, hit to about 6 feet, to win the Wyndham Championship in August with an improbable, ballsy birdie.
So when Bubba Watson made his run to get within two on Sunday, and when Welshman Jamie Donaldson made his unlikely run to get within one of Reed, we all waited for Reed to crack. And he did, sort of. He missed the green on 11 ... and saved par. And then he missed the green on 13 ... and saved par. And then he missed a tiny putt for par on 14 and – aha! – he was cracking, surely!
But Reed, who has the kind of brass that saw him qualify six times for PGA Tour events via Monday qualifiers in 2012, again missed the green on 15 ... and again saved par. And then found a fairway bunker with an awkward lie on 16 ... and again saved par. And then found another fairway bunker on 17 ... and again saved par.
It was mettle on display, it was guts on display, was it cockiness on display? His post-round assurance of his place in the game was just short of LeBron's Mount Rushmore, since LeBron shaved his list to four. But is Patrick Reed, born in San Antonio, out of high school in Baton Rouge, La., and now on your TV screen scoring and winning and boasting, that good?
He was asked after the round to list his top five, since he introduced the concept, and he went with Tiger, Adam Scott, Phil, Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell. That's cool, except that's five already and that doesn't leave room for Patrick Reed. Clearly, he's still honing his act.
Heck, Reed even said after the round that he wears red shirts and black slacks on Sunday BECAUSE that's what Tiger wears. Whoa! I don't know whether to applaud his chutzpah or worry about the potential 'Single White Female' strain this presents. Imagine Reed rolling up to Tiger at the players' lounge breakfast buffet on Sunday morning, giving him a head-to-toe once-over, lifting his chin up in a defiant 'What's up?' nod, and eyeballing him with a 'How do you like me now?' vibe. This kid is something else.
Already on social media Sunday evening, you could feel the bull's-eye being placed on Reed's back. The Golf Channel's Arron Oberholser warned Reed that "the game has a way of humbling you." Hunter Mahan tweeted out, "I heard Patrick had an epic post-round interview. What were some of the highlights? Hit me back."
It sounds like it's on. It sounds like Patrick Reed is here, he's ruffling feathers, and he's collecting big checks. And he's golfing his ball. This makes it fun.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
76-73-66-78 – 5-over 293, Tiger Woods, tie-25th, WGC-Cadillac Championship
What in the name of gobbling fistfuls of Advil is going on here with Tiger Woods? He's up, he's down, he's walking off courses, he's limping around courses, and he's not winning. Nowhere close.
He flirted with irrelevance the first 36 holes, then dazzled the Saturday night highlight reels with his third-round 66 and there he was, teeing off late on a Sunday, in the red, with a chance to quiet the doubters – the kind of doubters who buzz around defending PGA Tour Players of the Year coming off five-win seasons.
But on the sixth hole, an awkward stance in a bunker tweaked the back that caused his mid-Honda walk-off last week, and Tiger played the last 12 holes walking around Doral with all the smoothness of Oz's Tin Man. He peppered his post-round interview with talk of "flexion" in his back and treatment "protocols," which isn't as cool as using phrases like "green jackets" and "Claret Jugs."
Here's a stat for you to chew on with the Masters just five weeks away: Tiger made no birdies today, the first time in his career he's played a final round with no birdies. And by the time he started hobbling around the course like Redd Foxx shouting for Elizabeth, he'd already made bogey on two of his first four holes. So which came first, Tiger's back, or Tiger's bad play? Discuss.
He says he wants to play Bay Hill in two weeks, but this might be the time for him to remember what happened when we were all kids, and we had the sniffles and wanted to go outside and play. Mom instead made us stay in bed, and fed us chicken soup. Mom always knows best.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"I think he needs to take about a week off and pretend he's Freddie Couples and just watch TV." – Johnny Miller, NBC, playing doctor for Tiger Woods' back woes.
Or, Mom and Johnny Miller know best.
Miller also went a little Marlin Perkins from Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" and opined that human beings are the only animals that try to work through injuries, or tough them out. According to Miller, in the animal kingdom, our fellow creatures nurse themselves back to health before going back out into nature.
And you can just see Johnny sending Dan Hicks to go tame the lions and take on the hippos, the way Perkins used to always dispatch "Jim" into the hairiest situations.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
I must confess, the Welshman Jamie Donaldson has not been visible on the radar. He has won twice on the European Tour, including the 2012 Irish Open and in Abu Dhabi in 2013, holding off Justin Rose. He's yet to make a Ryder Cup, but he qualified for Doral with his hefty No. 30 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings.
And the 38-year-old made quite a name with his second-round 70 amid the high winds, and by hanging around late into Sunday before making bogey at the last and expiring despite a fine final-round 70. Mostly, he bore a freckle-faced resemblance to Brandt Snedeker. He could be Snedeker's older, Welsh brother.
And he could have maybe won at Doral, also. He came to the par-4 16th hole, the drivable 293-yard hole, two shots back of Reed, but knowing that Reed was going to feel immeasurable heat down the stretch. So, as nearly every player in the field had done, we all expected Donaldson to pull driver and give it a mighty lash, surely gunning for birdie on the risk-reward hole.
Instead, Donaldson hit iron off the tee. He laid up. He played for the par. On NBC, the normally mild-mannered Mark Rolfing called Donaldson out, saying he was playing for a check and not the win. Donaldson's conservative call was made more glaring when he roasted his drive on the difficult par-4 17th, hit his long iron stoney and kicked in a bird to pull within one of Reed.
Donaldson finished tied for second with Bubba Watson, and netted the $753,000 check that will help his cause in playing for a PGA Tour card and give him a solid chance at a Ryder Cup spot. But who flies all the way from Wales to lay up?
So Jamie, let's go back to the 16th tee, remind ourselves that we only live once – as far as we know – that driving that little old par-4 ain't nothing but a thing, pull the big dog out of the bag and ... give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The Florida Swing continues at Innisbrook, at the Copperhead Course, where Jordan Spieth played well a year ago en route to Rookie of the Year. There will be no Phil or Rory, and Tiger is under strict orders from Dr. Miller to binge-watch HBO's "True Detective" On Demand while resting the lumbar region. Sadly, no Patrick Reed, either. But who wants a piece of that guy, anyway? He's only looking to kick butt and take names. Run for cover!