CHASKA, Minn. – Let me put this in terms that Minnesotans can appreciate.
If the Ryder Cup were a hockey game, we could skip the suspense of announcing the three stars of the game. Stars number two and three can stay in the locker room. Your star of this game, or the Man of the Match for the U.S. team, if you prefer, is Mr. Patrick Reed.
Maybe he wasn’t your favorite member of the American squad. Maybe he wasn’t anyone’s best buddy on the team. But if the United States finally breaks its string of stupefying Ryder Cup losses to Europe on Sunday, it will be due in large part to Reed.
He and Jordan Spieth were America’s best duo at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland. This week, they’re at it again, with Reed serving as the alpha dog this time. He’s playing his best golf. Spieth is playing pretty decent too, though decidedly short of great.
On Saturday afternoon, Reed piled up six birdies and an eagle in 17 holes and was waving his putter, pumping his fists and yelling some variation of “Come on!” more often than any other American. This is no secret. The only strategy for Sunday’s singles is to front-load your lineup. Whether you’re leading or trailing, if you win early matches you can load pressure onto the opponent’s players.
The Europeans are three points behind going into Sunday. Love knew they would front-load. Rory McIlroy goes out first, followed by Henrik Stenson. They are Europe’s best. Love’s leadoff hitter? Reed. Which means that Sunday’s marquee match will be the first one off: Rory versus Reed.
On Saturday morning, Reed and Spieth birdied five of the first seven holes in foursomes, a pretty unusual feat in alternate shot, but they couldn’t protect a four-up lead with six holes to play and settled for a halve after Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello played inspired golf.
America’s Dynamic Duo squashed Europe’s best team, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, in Friday morning’s foursome matches. Yes, the Europeans returned the favor in the afternoon, turning their buzzsaws on Reed and Spieth with nine birdies in 14 holes.
No one on the U.S. side has been spitting fire and brimstone like Reed. Not Spieth. Not U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, who’s cooler than a frozen daiquiri. Not even Brandt Snedeker, who looked like a quaking volcano about to spew lava a few times after he drained crucial putts in his morning-match victory on Saturday. The rest of the U.S. team is relatively sedate, really. Matt Kuchar holed a ridiculous 50-foot putt on Saturday afternoon and celebrated by swinging his cap – woooo!
The Americans have leaders. Phil Mickelson. Kuchar. Captain Davis Love III. It is Reed who puts the beat in its heart.
“We played phenomenal golf this morning,” Spieth said. “We didn’t miss many shots. We made a couple bogeys in a row that let the other guys back in the match – an out-of-character finish for us. It was certainly out of character for my partner, because we were then in the same position this afternoon, and Patrick took over.”
On the front nine alone, Reed had five birdies and an eagle. Then after Rose and Stenson had closed to one down through 13 holes, Reed answered with birdies at 14 and 15. After Stenson chipped in for eagle at the 16th, Reed closed out the match with a two-putt par at 17.
“We wanted Rose and Stenson again,” Spieth said. “They wanted to play us again. We split yesterday’s two matches. We won our first match. Then Henrik pulled a Patrick yesterday afternoon, and Patrick pulled a Patrick this afternoon for us to better them.”
The biggest shot Reed hit on Sunday, besides the wedge that he spun back into the cup for an unlikely eagle at the 6th hole, was his second into the par-5 16th.
“He hit his approach with that 5-wood, or 4-wood, from 269 into the breeze with the ball below his feet off a downslope,” Spieth said. “After he struck it, you could kind of tell before it even reached its apex… we were both screaming. That’s how cool it was. I screamed, ‘Let’s go, Patrick!’ I don’t know what he screamed. Then he did his signature whatever-it-was, the let’s-go fist pump.”
It was an impressive shot, blunted by Stenson’s chip-in eagle on the hole that pushed the match to the 17th. Reed is so serious about the Ryder Cup that he seems slightly uninterested in doing TV interviews or talking to the media. He just wants to win this thing. Anything else is secondary. He is aware, however, that he is on a roll, and so are the Americans.
U.S. team officials debated after the morning whether Reed and Spieth should play a fourth match or rest up for Sunday. The matter was settled by vice captain Tiger Woods, who told Love, “You’ve gotta send them back out, they’re playing too well.”
So Reed and Spieth went back out and beat Europe’s best team. Reed is America’s best this week. Next he’ll play Rory, Europe’s best individual. It’s star versus star. Set your DVR to record. You don’t want to miss it.