As the 2018 tournament at Augusta National is consigned to the history books, John McAuley looks at the big talking points to emerge at the end of the four days
'Marmite' Reed a deserved winner, Woods needs time, Fowler a major champion-in-waiting: US Masters takeaways
Reed won’t win popularity contest, but is deserving champion
Patrick Reed heard Rory McIlroy ramp up the pressure on Saturday night. He watched the experts on television downplay his chances. When he arrived on the first tee of the final round of the year’s opening major, he listened to the patrons plump for his playing partner.
McIlroy was more popular, an American crowd rooting for the Northern Irishman and not the Augusta State alumni. Yet Reed never let it derail his quest for a first major. In fact, it served as motivation. His 71 wasn’t great, but it was gutsy and gritty, did what champions do.
Reed is hard to warm to, but his determination runs hotter than most. There was some good fortune - on 13, Reed’s ball somehow avoided Rae’s Creek - but he deserved the victory.
He slept on a 54-lead at a major for the first time, survived a charging Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, rendered redundant those pre-round predictions. Yes, Reed is brash and boastful, full of marmite bravado. But boy can he play, too.
Rory all out of synch right at wrong time
In the end, if only for a moment, McIlroy was just another face in the crowd. He stood at the edge of the 18th green, reduced to a watching brief as Reed rolled in his four-footer to seal the Green Jacket.
It was supposed to be roles reversed. McIlroy had begun the day three shots back, Reed’s closest challenger but most people’s favourite to win and thus complete the career grand slam. Yet, aside from his watchmaker-precision approach to the second, he never seemed in synch.
McIlroy concluded Sunday tied-5th. He finished six behind Reed. He missed five putts within 10 feet. As others lit up the leaderboard, he shot 74, superior to only four players.
This was not 2011, but the miss will sting similarly: with four major titles and a myriad of other victories since, McIlroy was primed for the final piece of the jigsaw. But the parts never fit.
At 28, he will no doubt have other chances. Nonetheless, the feeling grows that he needs to capitalise on the next.
Spieth just short, but poised for multiple Masters wins
It felt like being back at Birkdale. Last summer, Spieth stormed to the Claret Jug. On Sunday, he seemed set for another mighty final-day effort to capture another major.
He had a Masters already, but not like this. This time, Spieth began nine shots back, yet by the 16th had climbed level. He exorcised his 12th-hole demons. He went out in 31 and appeared poised to come back in the same.
Then his drive on 18 clunked a tree and he had to settle for a 64 – one shy of matching the Masters’ lowest 18-hole score. Eventually, he finished third, two shots off Reed.
Hence, Spieth’s Augusta record now reads: T2, 1, T2, T11, 3. Only Jack Nicklaus has performed better in his first five Masters (a barely believable T-15, 1, T-2, 1, 1). Nicklaus has an unrivalled six Green Jackets. Spieth may not ultimately make that mark, but one thing is certain: he is tailor-made for more successes there.
Tiger tracking, although there’s still some way to go
Tiger Woods was wary of the hype. He attempted to temper expectation. Asked on Tuesday if a fifth Green Jacket would equate to the greatest comeback in sport, a fit and apparently firing Augusta favourite urged caution. “Let’s just slow down”, Woods said.
When all was said and done, he finished tied-32nd, never really challenging, never living up to his billing. But, then, he should not have anyway. Woods was contesting his first Masters in three years. He was appearing in the 7th tournament of his comeback from spinal fusion surgery.
His game was not all there - uncharacteristically, his +1 total found root in poor iron play - and on Sunday he took 32 putts despite hitting 15 of 18 greens. Now ranked 88th in the world, Woods sits inside the top 100 for the first time since 2015.
He will rest up, mostly probably until the Wells Fargo Championship in three weeks’ time. With Woods, the puff and the pageantry remain. He needs afforded a little patience.
Fowler and Rahm lead fight to be next first-timer
To win a major is no small feat. That Nicklaus has 18 borders on absurd. Woods’ 14 is almost as unbelievable. For all the talk of an almost four-year drought, McIlroy had four at age 25. In triumphing on Sunday, Reed became the ninth first-time winner in the past 10 majors.
Who will be the next? Fowler seems the natural progression, given his runner-up finish at Augusta. He has eight top-fives in majors – only three players have more, with Lee Westwood the only still active. His closing birdie to sign off for 67 and increase the pressure on Reed behind him confirmed Fowler could soon join golf’s elite.
Crucially, he said he now knows what it takes to win one. "My next goal?" Fowler said post-round. "Win a major. We're close."
Jon Rahm will feel exactly the same. The Spaniard came home fourth in only his second Masters, and on pure talent alone, looks a lock for multiple majors. Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama and Alex Noren are not far behind either.