Rory McIlroy fails to ignite as Patrick Reed claims Masters title
The American was unflappable in holding off a charging Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth
The demons of old, seemingly banished, returned to haunt Rory McIlroy in his quest to claim an elusive Green Jacket in this 82nd edition of the US Masters. And, if for a while, it seemed as if Augusta National’s most favoured son of late, the free-wheeling Jordan Spieth, or Rickie Fowler would audaciously steal in to claim the $1.9 million prize cheque, ultimately it was Patrick Reed who added the iconic fashion item to his wardrobe.
From great expectations starting out, it proved to be a thoroughly disappointing and frustrating day for McIlroy who was left in the slipstream of Reed and outmanoeuvred by others, principally Fowler and Spieth.
In perfect conditions, a dry day with a course softened by further overnight rain, Reed – a 27-year-old Texan with a stubborn streak, a player who had become the poster boy of U-S-A fervour in Ryder Cups to the extent his fellow team members nicknamed him Captain America after the superhero comic character – stuck to his guns with solid shot-making when it mattered most to claim a breakthrough Major title.
Reed, with the pressure of chasing a maiden Major, and McIlroy, with the pressure of attempting to complete the career Grand Slam, had started as the main protagonists. But, on a Sunday of Sundays, others inveigled to gatecrash. For a time Spieth, but then Rickie Fowler – no choking – briefly Jon Rahm.
But it was Reed’s day, Reed’s time. He finished with a closing round 71 for an aggregate total of 273, 15 under par, which gave him a one-stroke winning margin over Fowler; with Spieth a shot further back in solo third.
For McIlroy, his bid to add the Masters title to his US Open, British Open and US PGAs was undone by a game out of sync, barely recognisable from how his 65 of Saturday which had proclaimed him as the main challenger to Reed. It didn’t quite turn out that way, as McIlroy struggled to a closing 74 for 279 that left him in a four-way tie for fifth alongside Cameron Smith, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson.
With roars from ahead reverberating back to him warning of the remarkable deeds of Spieth, a champion in 2015, and Fowler, and the giant white leaderboards confirming his fellow Texans’ birdie blitzes as the pursuing pair made inroads, Reed overcame a shaky start to get the job done.
Spieth’s charge was impressive, one which started with a birdie on the opening hole and generated momentum as he walked up the hill on the ninth where he rolled in his fifth birdie of a front nine of just 31 strokes. Then, around Amen Corner, Spieth added further birdies at the 12th and 13th to raise the possibility of the unlikeliest of final round comebacks. Another birdie on 15, and another on 16 got him to 14 under . . . until his only bogey of the round arrived when it mattered most, on the 18th, where his tee shot - fractionally too far to the left - clipped a tree limb.
Then, it was Fowler’s turn to be the protagonist as he claimed four birdies on his homeward run to post a fine 67 that would prove a shot too many.
McIlroy slipped all too easily out of the race.
On the practice green close by the first tee, the Northern Irishman – chasing destiny – had seemed relaxed, disregarding scientific tendencies and putting with a casual, relaxed tempo. At ease, and the roars that accompanied him to the tee box exceeded the more refined encouragement that greeted Reed a couple of minutes earlier.
But, once the battle commenced, McIlroy was out-of-sorts. His first tee-shot was pushed right, where it clattered into one towering cathedral pine and, like a game of pinball, hit an even larger one before nestling in the pine straws. On first look, it appeared as if he was blocked out, but McIlroy spotted a route towards the green, clinically executing a recovery shot that evaded limbs and leaves and settled in the greenside bunker. It was a shot of intent, and he managed to get up and down for par. Reed didn’t. The three-shot deficit had been reduced to two.
Then, McIlroy’s audacious drive on the Par 5 second cleared the ridge and his mid-iron approach settled four feet above the hole. Reed only parred. And, suddenly, McIlroy had a putt for eagle to share the lead. But he missed, and the birdie left him one back. It was to be as good as it got, as McIlroy’s putter – his shoulders off-kilter, his clubface open at impact – betrayed him.
From there on, it was a struggle. When Reed birdied the third to McIlroy’s bogey, the two-shot swing seemed to hit harder than a sucker punch.
Indeed, McIlroy missed no fewer than five putts inside 10 feet on a front nine where his quest for glory unravelled, his frustration evident. His body language told a tale, as he leaned one way or the other as if it would help guide tee shots and approach shots; but those shots refused to obey. All too often, he was shouting “Sit! Sit!” to a ball, which, like a bold schoolkid, refused to listen. On this day, McIlroy had no authority, no control.
Requiring to keep only an occasional eye on McIlroy, struggling with all facets of his game, Reed could focus on his own deeds. Nothing spectacular, certainly nothing to compare with what Spieth and Fowler were producing, but when the tough questions were asked he answered them. He got a break or two along the way too, most notably on the Par-5 13th where his approach miraculously stayed on the bank of Rae’s Creek. When it mattered most, though, it was his trusted putter that stood by Reed as he sank par putts on the 17th and 18th to claim the biggest win of his career.
A battle of the ages to be sure, but not what was anticipated; not the protagonists we’d envisaged.