With four holes to play in Monday’s final round at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Patrick Reed trailed 54-hole co-leader Jimmy Walker by four shots. At the time, it may have seemed like an insurmountable deficit to overcome, but not for Reed, who credits his stubbornness for his success.
Reed started his magical run, rolling in a 33-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. Then, from 80 yards, he holed out for eagle on the par-4 16th to tie Walker at 21-under. On the par-4 17th, Reed three-putted from just off the green, missing a four-footer to save par. Heading into the final hole in regulation, he needed to birdie to give himself a shot at forcing a playoff — and that’s exactly what he did. Reed knocked it on the green in two and drained a three-footer to post a six-under 66 in the final round, 21-under total, putting some pressure on Walker, who watched from the 18th fairway.
Walker pushed his second shot near the grandstands right of the fairway. He caught his pitch heavy and his third shot came up well short, leaving him about 10 feet for birdie and the outright win. His putt stopped just short of the cup and he was forced to settle with a par, not to mention a sudden death playoff against Reed.
Erin Walker, Jimmy’s wife, watched nervously in the walkway from the 18th green to the scoring area. “These are a couple bulldogs,” she said, referring to the playoff match up with her husband and Reed. “We could be here until tomorrow.”
Turned out they only needed a hole as Walker and Reed headed back to the 18th tee. It was actually quite shocking how poorly Walker played it — both in regulation and the playoff, but mostly the latter. After blasting a driver down the left-center of the fairway, he pushed his second into the stands. Then, he let his pitch get away from him, rolling off the back of the green.
Meanwhile, Reed pushed his drive into the right rough, but hit a good recovery shot in the fairway about 50 yards short of the green. From there, he pitched it to about 20 feet. From the back of the green, Walker hit a mediocre chip to six feet. As it happened, it didn’t matter as Reed drained his birdie putt straight into the back of the cup for birdie and his fourth-career win in his young career. He pumped his fist emphatically.
Reed admitted he didn’t have his A-game this week, but his tenacity to win overcame any weaknesses.
“How I handled it mentally,” said Reed when asked what he was most proud of with this win. “You know, being two back (at the start of the round), and then before I even teed off I saw Chris Kirk was like 9-under through something, and I knew Jason Day was making a run and I knew Jimmy was getting off to a pretty quick start.
“The main thing all week for us was stay patient, it’s windy out here, give yourself looks for birdie and just try to make some putts. And early on I seemed to leave a lot of putts short, just didn’t get them to the hole, and I think it all kind of just turned around when I hit a really good 3wood on the fifth hole, the par-5.”
After leaving two birdie putts short on nos. 13 and 14, Reed was fired up, but he didn’t let his frustration impede him.
“I kept on saying to myself, ‘Be patient,'” said Reed in his post-round presser. “You don’t know what can happen. And I looked at Kessler and said, ‘All right, let’s try to birdie three coming in,’ and when we step up on 15, knowing how hard 17 is, thinking realistically that’s probably not your birdie hole. We were able to hit awesome 3wood there, knocked it on the green in two. Eagle putt left it short but tap-in birdie, and I felt like I hit a good wedge shot on 18; and (on 16) when I heard the roar and I knew it went in, I knew, okay, you can’t get too hyped here because you have a chance.
“I just stayed level headed and went to the next tee box, and after I made it, the only thing I was thinking about was hitting a good tee shot on the next. I was able to hit a good tee shot. And unfortunately I hit too good of a drive, left myself that gap that I don’t really like distance wise. It’s such a soft 5-iron I have to hit from there, and normally I like just to rope it on 17 so you can get that roll left, and just kind of hung out there.
“I thought I hit two good putts, just didn’t go in. I missed a lot of short putts this week, but the good thing is mentally I probably played a lot better and did a lot better this week than I have any other week. That’s what allowed me to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
However, standing on the 15th tee, it felt insurmountable.
“When I didn’t make birdie on 13 or 14, I thought my chances were slim,” said Reed. “So I was just thinking to myself, let’s try to birdie three of the last four and get ourselves a chance to cure second along and give ourselves a chance just maybe.”
This was Reed’s fourth win on the PGA Tour and third within a year (2014 Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, 2014 World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship). Unlike the controversial declaration he made on the 18th green after he won at Doral, calling himself a “top five player” in the world, Reed kept his comments tame and diplomatic (though there was no doubt that he exuded a slight arrogance), though he has much to celebrate.
He joins the elite company of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia as the only players in the last 20 years to record 4-plus wins before the age of 24 years and six months. He also holds the most wins by current players on the PGA Tour under the age of 25.
He believes his success is a result of his determination.
“It’s just because I’m stubborn,” said Reed. “I don’t really care. I go out there and just kind of focus on my golf game, and I don’t really care what anyone else is doing or however anyone else hits the shot. I just know how I can do it, and you know, what works for me and what makes me allows it to be more consistent under pressure. And I just think that’s what it is for me.”
What’s next for Reed? Well, he’s made some goals.
“One of them is a multi-win year,” he said. “And it’s just to make that percentage of Top 10s better. It just seems like last year I had I either played really, really well or I didn’t really play very well. And it’s just to get that consistency better, and those are just things that we’re working on with the mental game, with, you know, course management and just with the golf swing.
“It’ll come around, and here’s a little side note how I felt like I didn’t really have all of the tools on how I was hitting the ball and how I was putting, but mentally and my game plan was really sharp this week, and that’s what kept us in with a chance to win it.”
Reed wants to perform better at the majors, as well. Last year his best finish came at the U.S. Open, where he finished T35th. He placed T53 at the PGA Championship and missed the cut at the Masters and the Open Championship.
“That just seems like that’s one missing piece right now is just contending and trying to win a major,” said Reed. “I was able to play in my first majors last year, and I was able to kind of see what they were like. I missed two of the cuts and I made two of the cuts, but on Sunday I wasn’t even a factor, and that’s the main thing for me is just keep improving in the golf and then in the majors have a chance coming down Sunday to at least make some noise.”
While he dodged making any inflammatory remarks, Reed is still gunning for that no. 1 world ranking, which is currently held by McIlroy.
“Everyone is trying to get to the best in the world,” he said. “But that’s going to take a long time. It’s nothing that happens overnight. That’s for sure.”
Well, he’s certainly getting closer. Entering this week, Reed was ranked 23rd in the world. Now after winning at Kapalua, he will move to 14th. Not too shabby.
“For me, you know, it’s a stepping stone — winning another event,” said Reed. “It gives me confidence, but at the same time I need to back it up with continued playing well and continue having a chance.”
Meanwhile, Hideki Matsuyama, the 22-year-old superstar from Japan, had his fair share of chances to get into the playoff or even win outright, but he missed several makable birdie putts on the last three holes and finished one shot back of Walker and Reed.
“I’m obviously disappointed to not making the putt on the last hole,” said Matsuyama. “Despite not making the putt on 18, I’m still proud of myself for hanging in there and giving myself a chance down the stretch. I felt good all week. I hope to build on this and have a good year”
Matsyumaa tied for third, along with Russell Henley and Jason Day, who posted his career-low score and matched the course record 62 (as did Chris Kirk). Day was frustrated with his performance on the greens following the third round and he was able to find his rhythm on the greens Monday to finish the tournament with gusto.
“It was just more so with the putting because it was a frustrating week the first three days, especially yesterday, giving myself so many opportunities on the greens,” said Day. “And not to be able to capitalize on that was very frustrating for me and that’s why I was stressing so much last night just thinking about it, what am I doing.
“Then today, you know, just felt like I was the best player in the world, you know playing today and putting the way I played. It was special out there, and you know, I’m just glad I’m in and get the year off to a good start.”
Here’s to the year of the 20-somethings? The future is bright!