AUGUSTA, Ga. — Captain America’s got himself a green jacket.
Patrick Reed, hero of Ryder Cups but so often a no-show in majors, won the 2018 Masters on Sunday, facing down Rory McIlroy without trouble, withstanding an astounding, improbable charge from Jordan Spieth and surviving an out-of-nowhere surge from Rickie Fowler.
“It’s almost impossible to put into words,” Reed said, moments before slipping on the green jacket inside Butler Cabin.
“I always watch leaderboards, no matter what event, whether it’s the first hole on Thursday or last hole on Sunday,” he said later. “So yes, I saw Jordan and Rickie storm up those leaderboards. … The way those guys played toward the end, having to go shoot under par of the final round of your first major to win, it was hard.”
The week began on a strange note, as Tony Finau wrenched his ankle, and then popped it back into place, while celebrating an ace in the Par 3 contest. While it was a horrific-looking injury, Finau rebounded well enough to finish at 7-under and in the top 10 of the tournament. Rebounding from certain disaster would become a recurring theme.
Then came the tournament itself, which kicked off, as all Masters these days seem to, with Spieth taking charge early. His six-under score was the best of the day by two strokes, and marked the third time in the past four years he had led on a Thursday. He’d done this before, going wire-to-wire to win in 2015 and very nearly repeating the feat in 2016, and nobody would have been surprised to see Spieth lock the whole tournament down by midday Friday.
Elsewhere on the course, Sergio Garcia, defending champion, carded the worst hole in Masters history on the par-5 15th, finishing with 13 strokes en route to an early exit from the tournament, if not necessarily Augusta. He’d need to present the green jacket to the winner Sunday night, of course.
Spieth stumbled hard out of the gate Friday, going double bogey-bogey to begin the day and falling right back into the pack. Meanwhile, Reed cranked up his game, dropping nine birdies against three bogeys to take the outright lead by two strokes at -9.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, avatars of an earlier generation, couldn’t hang with the twentysomethings. Both made the cut – Mickelson on the number at plus-5, Woods just one stroke ahead of him. Neither did much more than snare some early patrons on their first walk around Augusta, and both got an idea of how hard it’ll be from here on out to win a major again.
Saturday belonged to Reed, as he thoroughly throttled the field and extended his lead by a stroke. Three players – McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, and Jon Rahm – shot 65, the first time three players had shot that low in Masters history, and none were even within three strokes of the lead.
Sunday opened with the promise of a Ryder Cup rematch between Reed and McIlroy. And for a moment, it appeared we’d have a duel; Reed bogeyed the first and McIlroy put himself into position for an eagle on the second that would have tied the tournament at 13-under just two holes in. But, incredibly, McIlroy missed – the first of many short misses he’d come to regret throughout the day – and Reed, relieved and emboldened, held onto the lead. It went like that throughout the front nine, and by the time the final duo had made the turn, McIlroy had effectively played himself out of a chance at a career Grand Slam.
Spieth, meanwhile, surfaced from the depths of the leaderboard to begin one of the more amazing charges in Masters history. He birdied the first, second, eighth, and ninth holes to start drawing notice and television coverage.
Spieth’s round, already exceptional, turned miraculous in Amen Corner. First, he cleared the water on No. 12, the hole that cost him the 2016 Masters. Then he curled in a gentle birdie putt to drop to 10-under. His tee shot on 13 ended up in the trees, but he used a long iron to juuuust clear Rae’s Creek and set up another birdie.
Two holes behind him, Reed put his tee shot on 11 into the trees along the right side of the course, and couldn’t drop the eventual par putt. But on the next hole, Reed, from the fringe on 12, dropped a 22-foot birdie to hold onto the lead at 14-under, while ahead, Spieth birdied the 15th to pull within a stroke.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 8, 2018
And then came one of the putts of the tournament: Spieth’s 33-foot birdie putt on 16 to grab a share of the lead. Combined with Reed’s birdie miss on 15 – the ball was close enough to the cup to stare down into the hole – Spieth had found the top of the leaderboard with just two holes remaining to play.
But Reed, 27, once again stood tall, pouring in a birdie putt at 14 while Spieth parred the 17th and bogeyed the 18th. That gave Reed a two-stroke cushion over Spieth and Fowler.
From there, he just needed to hang on over the final three holes, a tall order for player who’d always envisioned himself as a major winner but had never actually won one or come even close, really.
He drained a crucial 5-footer for par at 17, then went to 18. As he did, up ahead Fowler knocked in a birdie to get to 14-under, sending a roar right back to the tee box.
“To hear that roar on the last [hole], I just knew it had to be Rickie,” Reed said.
Staring down the narrow corridor that leads to the 18th fairway, Reed ripped a slicing drive right down the middle, then placed his approach 24 feet above the hole. Two putts to win. The first rolled 3 feet by, leaving a knee-knocker of a 4-footer for the victory.
He drained it, and the green jacket was his.
The clinching putt.
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 8, 2018
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Manziel tosses TD and shows flashes of what made him Johnny Football
• UFC 223 delivers after wildest week in promotion’s history
• No, the Conor McGregor melee wasn’t staged. Yes, the UFC will capitalize on it
• Tiger Woods meets fan battling cancer thanks to power of social media