The scene was set. Seven years after Rory McIlroy, now 28, had shot a final-round 80 when the Masters was in his grasp, his big chance of redemption had arrived. He’d won four Grand Slams since then but never prevailed at Augusta, but do it this time and he would become only the sixth man to complete the career professional Grand Slam. In his way, three shots ahead of him and his last-round playing partner, was 27-year-old Patrick Reed, with no majors to his name but memories of an epic 2016 Ryder Cup victory over McIlroy doubtless in his mind. The next nearest man, Rickie Fowler, was three behind McIlroy. It looked likely to be between the two of them. That wasn’t how it turned out.
In hindsight, the par-five 2nd hole could be seen as some kind of harbinger. McIlroy had parred the opening hole, despite a terrible drive way right, whereas Reed had bogeyed it. At the 2nd, Reed was making par all day. McIlroy’s second shot was a sumptuous iron that finished four feet from the cup. Make the eagle and they’d be tied. He missed. And then he bogeyed the 3rd. He never did catch Reed. He shot 74 to finish in a tie for fifth with a total of 279, nine under par. You had to go all the way down the Matthew Fitzpatrick (with a 75) on 291 to find a player who shot a worse score on Sunday. “It’s frustrating and it’s hard to take any positives from it right now,” said the Irishman, “but at least I put myself in a position [to win]. I’ll come back next year and try again.”
Reed didn’t manage to become the first man to break 70 in all four rounds at Augusta but his 71 got him home by a shot from Rickie Fowler and by two from Jordan Spieth. The latter was nine under for the day playing the last, needing a birdie for a course-record 62, but his drive clipped a tree and he made a bogey. Fowler did birdie 18 for a 67 but Reed held firm and two-putted to claim the green jacket.
“It’s almost impossible to put into words,” he said, albeit trying to do just that. “To make par on the last and watch the ball go in the hole and know that I’ve won my first major…one of my goals this year was to not only contend in majors but also get back in that winning circle. To do it in the first major and finish that drought means so much to me.”
The prime speculation before events got underway was whether Tiger Woods might win his fifth green jacket 13 years after he collected his fourth. Woods has not won a major since 2008 and even as recently as last September he was admitting he might not play competitive golf again. One back-fusion surgery later, and on the back of top-five finishes in his previous two starts, the notion of him winning his 15th major didn’t seem too fanciful.
He wasn’t having it that such a triumph would be the greatest revival in golf history. “I think one of the greatest comebacks in all of sport is by a gentleman who won here, Mr Hogan,” said Woods, referring to Ben Hogan’s recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1949 to win seven more majors, including two Masters. Tiger was never close to making this a moot point. He made the cut with a shot to spare and his total of 289 left him 16 shots adrift of Reed, although his closing 69 would have sent his fans home happy.
One final thought. The last group on Saturday went out at 2.30 local time. On Sunday it was 2.40. And that needed to factor in the possibility of a playoff. It’s crazy. The Masters has cut this situation pretty fine before, and been grateful that no sudden-death playoff has gone beyond two holes. But maybe one year their luck will not hold and everyone will have to return on the Monday morning to finish things off, as had happened only the previous week at the ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the season. Augusta National do things how they want but even they don’t control the weather or how long a playoff might last. Or do they?…
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