PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — On the 8th hole Friday at the Players Championship, Patrick Reed hit a laser-beam long iron so directly at the flag that it ricocheted off the pin and off the green. That proved no problem — Reed canned the slippery putt from the back fringe. As he fished the ball out of the hole, he glanced over at one of his playing partners, Tiger Woods, who was laughing at him from beside his golf bag.
Reed grinned back, and shrugged, and walked over to Woods’s side, where he got a playful slap on the shoulder. That drew applause and laughter from the crowd; that happens whenever Woods does anything even half-funny. Then the two walked off to the next tee, the 18th of their day and 36th of the week. In all, ’twas a jovial scene — and one that seemed wholly unlikely just months ago.
In the aftermath of last September’s Ryder Cup, when Patrick Reed went go scorched-earth on the U.S. team and its handling, the logical question that followed was about Reed’s future with his teammates: Had he had alienated his countrymen by going to the press? While Reed’s most pointed comments involved his partnership with Jordan Spieth, there was obvious subtext to his criticism of pairings: his partner for the week, after all, had been Tiger Woods.
To recap, in brief: Reed said he was “blindsided” by being paired with Woods, not Spieth. But the New York Post cited another U.S. team source contradicting that account and calling Reed “full of s—.” Several of Reed’s family members took to social media to shred the handling of the U.S. pairings. Then the two talked “for a long period of time,” according to Woods, who declined to elaborate. “Well, some of the things that, as I’ve said, it’s between us and we’ll be handling it between us,” he said. Burying the hatchet? Tough to say.
But to watch Woods and Reed during the first two rounds, you’d have guessed they’d been fast friends forever. Reed is famously individualistic — in one interview years ago, he cited Henrik Stenson among his closest friends on Tour, a characterization Stenson coldly brushed aside — and Woods was never a social butterfly until recently. While both are cordial with their playing partners, neither goes out of his way to chat it up. But there was plenty of organic chatter between the two on the course. Whispering between shots, and strolling side-by-side up fairways, and watching Webb Simpson finish out, Woods and Reed seemed eager to stay in close proximity.
“It’s just a blast,” Reed said after his round. “He’s always fun to play with. To grow up and always watch him as I was growing up and seeing the greatest to ever live play, and now to be able to play beside him and have fun with him and have him be as approachable as he is is really awesome to see.”
Sure, he could just be saying that. But for contrast, consider these three scenes: First, Reed’s hug with Spieth on the 1st tee at Pebble Beach, which was orchestrated for the cameras and felt that way, too. Second, the way Woods and Reed interacted with Simpson during these two rounds, which was friendly but lacked the same back-and-forth collegiality. And third, when Woods played with Phil Mickelson at this event a year ago as the two told the media of their burgeoning relationship, GOLF’s Michael Bamberger described their interactions thusly: “having no need to speak to each other, they didn’t.”
Much has been surmised about the Reed-Woods Ryder Cup partnership flameout, with the most tempting storyline being that there wasn’t enough room in one two-man team for two lone alphas. No way to know for sure. But one shared love they have: an electric playing atmosphere. Both are performers, and Reed likes the stage that playing with Woods guarantees.
“It’s always fun going out with him because you always have a lot of crowds,” he said. “You know if you’re playing well the crowds can get behind you and if you’re playing poorly they can pick you up, so it’s always nice.”
Both players have acquitted themselves well through two rounds at TPC Sawgrass. Woods salvaged an impressive round of one-under 70 despite a quadruple-bogey 7 at No. 17, and has made 11 birdies through two rounds. Even though he’s just three under, he’s hardly out of it. Reed got hot late; after missing several putts early on, he made birdies on 5, 8 and 9 coming in to post his second consecutive 69. Reed says he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to beat Woods head-to-head, but does feed off being around him.
“Hopefully you just start playing well and he feeds off of it or vice versa, if he starts getting on a run you just feed off that energy,” Reed said.
Beyond basic curiosity, the strength of the Woods-Reed relationship has relevance when it comes to this winter’s Presidents Cup team. Woods is the captain. Reed may need his pick. After he took his gripes to the press, many wrote off the idea of Reed being taken with a captain’s pick; with Woods in charge, that scenario feels that much more likely.
Woods was wrapping up last year’s pre-Players presser when Reed, who had been hiding in the back of the room, seized a microphone. “Mr. Woods, are you going to be wearing the Nike pink on Thursday?” he asked, deadpan. Woods hardly missed a beat. “Whatever the Masters champion is wearing, I will wear,” he fired back. If their friendship is a bit, they’re certainly committed to it, but Woods and Reed seem to have returned to that level of banter and ease. Each have worked his way past worse headlines in the past, after all, and compartmentalize effectively.
Of course, there’s still the balance of the weekend to play, and then there’s the majority of the golf season, too. Reed has a Champions Dinner to host before he even plays a major this year. (“I’m a fatten those boys up a little bit,” he said of his high-carb menu.) But the Masters champion seems to have an ally in golf’s most famous player — even though he’s never sought or needed one before.