The most intriguing player at the 79th Masters is from Texas; was part of the most promising duo at the 2014 Ryder Cup; played a starring role in the most thrilling Tour event so far in ’15; has recently entered rarefied air by achieving a tie for the most Tour wins for a player of his age; and represents the greatest threat, Stars & Stripes Division, to the reign of Rory McIlroy.
Yes, the most intriguing player at this year’s Masters is actually a dual entry: Jordan Spieth, 21, of Dallas, and Patrick Reed, 24, of Houston. Think of one and you can’t help but think of the other, though they are, in temperament, nothing alike — the wise Spieth a picture of comportment and the tempestuous Reed a fist-pumping, fire-breathing genius. Think Borg-McEnroe 2.0.
Reed says he considers Spieth a friend, and Spieth echoes that. Their caddies are tight too. But Spieth and Reed don’t exactly yak on the phone or trade texts all night. At last month’s Valspar Championship, thrown into a playoff with Reed for the second time in their young careers, Spieth quipped, “Patrick, here we go again.”
“I don’t think he heard me,” Spieth said.
So it went at the Ryder Cup last September after Reed sprayed his tee shot way right on the 5th hole of his match against Henrik Stenson. Reed was surveying his options when Spieth, taking on Graeme McDowell in the match immediately ahead, crested the hill en route to the elevated 6th tee, above Reed.
“Oh, hey, bud,” Spieth said. “I was looking for you!”
Reed grinned but said nothing. He played his second shot and moved on.
How this happened, Spieth and Reed getting swirled together into a single amalgam of awesome, like pralines and cream, is an accident. For starters Reed beat Spieth in a playoff at the 2013 Wyndham Championship. They were dynamic partners as Ryder Cup rookies, and then Spieth brushed off Reed and Sean O’Hair in a playoff at the wildly entertaining Valspar.
As always, Reed will be the bigger wild card at Augusta; in his first start last year he shot 73–79 and missed the cut. His is a combustible genius, but more often he seems impervious to and even emboldened by pressure. His escape on the first extra hole at the Valspar, the 18th, was epic. Not since Tiger have we watched anyone stroke a must-make putt (this one 9′ 2″) and thought, No way this isn’t going in.
Reed didn’t win, but he’s doing better than fine. In rallying to take the Hyundai TOC in January, he joined Woods, McIlroy and Sergio García as the only players to win four Tour events before their 25th birthday. The first time he was paired with Woods, at the Hero World Challenge in December, Reed — a late addition to the field and in the midst of testing new equipment — wore red and black and shot a course-record 63. When Reed went out at Isleworth in seven-under 29, a wide-eyed Woods asked a writer, “Does he always putt like this?” Answer: Only when it matters.
Like other boy geniuses — O’Hair, Salvador Dalí — Reed is estranged from his father. And his turbulent college career, which started at Georgia and ended with his leading Augusta State to back-to-back national championships, is well-covered ground. Still, he is not without social graces. As the defending champion at the Humana Challenge in January, he was introduced to tournament host Bill Clinton outside the scoring trailer, and the two talked for 10 minutes.
“It’s such a mental game,” Clinton said as Reed and his wife, Justine, basked in the glow of the 42nd president. “I think you’ve got the head for it.”
So does Spieth, whose measured cool gives him more than just a physical resemblance to coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Spieth’s little sister, Ellie, has special needs that go far beyond a dry towel and a fresh sleeve of Titleists, and this seems to give him an overdeveloped sense of perspective that acts as his 15th club, helping him shatter expectations.
No one wins the Masters on his first try, right? Well, last year Spieth shared the 54-hole lead with Bubba Watson and took the lead early in the final round before slipping into a tie for second. A year older and wiser, he’s coming off late 2014 victories at the Australian Open (prompting McIlroy to tweet that given 100 rounds he “wouldn’t sniff” the 63 Spieth shot in blustery conditions) and the Hero (by 10 shots), and his Valspar heroics in which he got up and down from everywhere but “the Greller.” (That’s Spieth-speak for “portable bathroom,” apparently in a nod to his caddie, Michael Greller.)
Like Reed, Spieth made a do-or-die putt on 18, from 11′ 8″ on the last hole of regulation. Three holes later he joined Woods, García and Robert Gamez as the only players with multiple wins before turning 22. Oh, and the first time Spieth was ever paired with Woods, at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open? Yeah, coach Taylor shot 63 too.
Spieth and Reed; Reed and Spieth. On to Augusta.