AUGUSTA, Ga. — His game had taken him to tracts of Augusta National Golf Club you’d rather never visit: in bleached white bunkers, under shady trees and imprisoned by the piney woods.
And yet, by the time he reached the 15th green, Patrick Reed’s name and a big red “2” were slotted onto the big hand-operated scoreboard next to the green on this risk-or-repent par-5.
He was 2-under-par, only one stroke off the lead in his first Masters. Looking like he was cheating fate with his hitting-to-all-fields state of play? Yes. But also looking like he might walk between the raindrops to a subpar contending round in his first-ever major after escaping the trees left of the No. 7 fairway to save par and threading a second shot through a narrow slot in the trees left of No. 8 (“gap the size of a pinkie,” Reed said) en route to a truly remarkable birdie.
But Augusta National is the devil in a green dress, beguilingly beautiful and accommodating but waiting to exact revenge for the smallest transgression.
It’s golf on a knife edge, which is part of what makes the Masters such compelling sport.
It started to unravel on 16. Reed pushed his tee shot on the par-3 into a right-hand bunker, short-siding himself to a tightly tucked pin. Short-siding yourself trying to get close to the hole on Augusta’s ski slope greens is like having someone short-sheet your bed. It leaves you cold, and it left Reed with a bogey.
On 17, he drove the ball well past the site of the dearly departed Eisenhower tree, but his second shot perhaps was touched by the mischievous ghost of that ball-eating pine. His ball kicked off the downslope of a fronting bunker, slid all the way across the green as if it were a greased cookie sheet and down a slope behind so treacherous his caddy should have been packing crampons and carabiners.
Reed hit over the green, chipped back and had to make a 10-footer for bogey. He hit in another greenside bunker on 18 and watched his 8-foot par putt levitate over the top of the hole and stay out, resulting in a bogey-bogey-bogey finish for a 1-over 73.
Walking off the course — more like stomping — Reed’s radiator was boiling over. By the time the former University High star reached the locker room, his mood had cooled enough to realize what he had done wasn’t all that bad considering his inexperience and the “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” degree of firmness to the course.
“I felt like I was 2-under-par but at the same time didn’t feel like I was doing anything great,” Reed said.
“The good thing is with not doing anything well, I was still 1-over-par. If I get it turned around and hit it solid, who knows?”
As his name sank from the leaderboard, there were snickers from the wise guys in the crowd all aimed at Reed’s brash boast after he won the Cadillac Championship at Doral — a tournament filled with a major championship-like field played in major championship-like tough conditions — that he felt like he was a top-five player in the world.
“Doesn’t look like a top-five player to me,” one wag offered, a golf savant who probably wouldn’t break 150 if he had to play this course in front of all these people.
OK, Reed didn’t look on top of the world at times. But by the time he reached his rented house, Reed probably knew he was tied for 27th place — not great but hardly out of touch with Bill Haas’ 4-under-par lead.
He knew the scoring average for Thursday was 74.474 and he beat that, along with beating major champions like Webb Simpson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Angel Cabrera and Jason Dufner. There were 48 double-bogeys in all, and he avoided adding one more to the hit list.
But it had to be a sobering moment of self-realization, too. Reed said the three times he played Augusta National while in college at Augusta State he shot even-par 72s.
But those were for fun. This was serious work, in front of an predictably huge gallery considering he was playing right behind reigning Masters champion Adam Scott and with fellow young guns Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
“If I do half the things better tomorrow, I’ll be fine,” Reed said.
A prayer or a promise? For a man who nearly got away with the steal of his young career Thursday, maybe it was a little of both.