GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with its staff to break down the game’s hottest topics. And since it’s Masters week, we are answering one burning question each night. Check in every Sunday evening for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.
1. Patrick Reed broke through to win his first major on Sunday, carding a final-round 71 at the Masters to edge Rickie Fowler by a stroke. Until this week Reed had had little success in the majors, notching just one top-10 finish in his previous 16 major starts. What was the difference-maker at Augusta National?
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): It’s easy to forget that 16 majors is still a relatively small sample and really not such a long learning curve at all. Our perspective has been warped, first by Tiger and then by the post-Tiger era of precocious success. Reed is still in his late 20s. It’s not like it took him eons to get here. This week, of course, his short game was absolutely nails when it had to be. And his ballstriking was good enough throughout, and spectacular at times, especially on Friday, when he played beautifully tee-to-green in very tough conditions.
Josh Berhow, senior producer, GOLF.com (@Josh_Berhow): I think it was simply him maturing and becoming a better player. This was his time. The last two times he held a 54-hole lead, he shot over par. He almost did that again today, but he gave himself enough of a cushion where it still worked in his favor. More importantly, he never blew up and lost his composure. When he needed to make a putt, he did.
Jessica Marksbury, senior editor, GOLF.com (@Jess_Marksbury): I really think he gained a bit of a mental edge being paired with Rory — someone he’s tangled with and gotten the better of in an intense environment. Reed is as gutsy and gritty as they come, and what’s really surprising is the fact that he hasn’t been in the mix more often at a major championship. I did not expect to see him let this one slip away.[image:14112617]
Dylan Dethier, associate editor, GOLF.com (@Dylan_Dethier): The guy was just relentless. Even when he faltered — and he did on Sunday — he came back with birdies at just the right times. He bogeyed No. 1 but made one from the back fringe on 3. He bogeyed 6 but then stuck it for a kick-in bird on 7. Bogeyed 11 and then made the putt of the day on 12. All that plus some good luck: his ball staying up on the bank on 13 and then catching enough of the lip to slow down on 17 made a huge difference.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, GOLF: I never knew he could hit so many fades. I never knew he could hole so many meaningful putts without a playing partner.
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): Chatted with his coach Kevin Kirk earlier in the week, and he said that Reed rolled into town playing so well (three straight top 10s) that they spent all of their time on course preparation instead of fine-tuning Reed’s swing, as they did in past Masters. On his first practice round, Reed spent eight hours playing four holes — 1, 2, 12 and 13 — and learned every hump and bump on those greens. By Thursday morning, he had a detailed game plan for every hole, and he executed it brilliantly.
2. Fowler played the weekend in 65-67 to surge up the leaderboard and finish one shot behind Reed in solo second. On Sunday evening, Fowler said, “I’m ready to go win a major, but this was kind of the first major week that I understood that and knew that and felt that.” Did you detect a new confidence in Fowler’s game?
Sens: Fowler has always seemed outwardly confident, anyway. I’m not sure if there was anything markedly different to those of us watching. No doubt he avoided the Sunday wilds that we’ve seen from him at other majors. But he’s been saying he’s ready to win for a while. In this case I think it helped that he was playing from behind, and playing relatively under the radar, with so many other big names in the hunt.
Berhow: I always thought that if Rickie was gonna win a major it would have to come from the fourth- or third-to-last group. He posts 65 and hangs out in the clubhouse as others fall to catch him. But he still had plenty of pressure being in the penultimate pairing today; this is the Masters — it’s not like you can hide. So, yes, I was pretty surprised of his 67 — especially since he played the first seven in one over par — and he changed my opinion about him. A major is in his future. Rickie you made me a believer!
Marksbury: Totally agree, Josh. Coming into this week, I picked Rickie as the player most likely to disappoint, given the lofty expectations we had for him. After what we saw today, I DO believe he can win a major championship, and soon. Had he gotten off to a faster start, things could have been really different this afternoon. The fact that he kept grinding and rising slowly up the leaderboard was heartening. And that putt he made on 18 was just nails.
Dethier: When he was one over through seven holes he was COMPLETELY out of it, so tons of credit to Rickie for that fuego finish: he ended up a couple bounces from being in a playoff. But can we get the guy to backdoor into a win instead of just another almost?
Bamberger: I don’t know about confidence or anything else. I do believe in odds. Rickie Fowler wins some small percentage of the tournaments in which he contends, as do all the best players. If he keeps contending, he will win a major. That’s what a logician would tell you. Except golf is not always logical.
Ritter: Well, if we go by odds, he’s won four Tour events in 10 years. It’s not a great closer rate. At some point I think he’s going to get one, but the near-misses are really piling up.
3. Rory McIlroy left yet another Masters without the green jacket, posting a lackluster Sunday 74 to finish six back. McIlroy hit only eight greens and struggled with his putter in the final round. Were his Sunday troubles on a course where he’s faced his share of demons more physical or mental?
Sens: Can those two be disentangled? That opening drive was the wild shot of a guy ramped up to a Spinal Tap 11. Whether that’s what caused his putter to betray him, who knows, but the missed bunny for eagle at 2 seemed to put him out of sorts and every time he righted himself, the putter acted up again. It was one of those spirals we see so often from so many players. But we’ll remember it because of who it was and where it happened. No doubt Augusta was in Rory’s head coming in, and even more so now.
Berhow: Augusta is in his head cause he wants it so bad. The guy has more money than he’ll ever need, he’s now married, he’s won other majors — what’s missing is a Masters title and he’s pressing. And you only get one shot a year, four days, so it’s hard to put so much work into something, come up short and have to wait another year for it. That said, I do think Augusta has been in his head since his 2011 collapse and he’s still finished top 10 the last five years. He’ll get it one of these years.
Marksbury: I’ll file it under a solid mix of both. Rory looked like he might take control of this tournament when the round began, and I think the emotional deflation of missing that short eagle putt (as Josh Sens so aptly described) was deeply affecting. Add to that the gut-punch of No. 3’s two-shot swing, and the grind that is required to make up for any loose shots, and I think it may have just been hard to fully re-invest himself in the round. And once the errors start compounding and the hole gets deeper, a rebound becomes harder than ever.
Dethier: That wobbly putter seemed to infect the rest of his game, and the sorts of misses that have plagued him — namely, distance control with his short irons — can really bite you at Augusta. Disappointing after the Rory Renaissance looked like it might be officially on.
Bamberger: After the first two holes, he was only one behind Reed and should have been primed to go on a run and turn it into match-play. I don’t know why that didn’t happen. I don’t think it has ANYTHING to do with the 2016 Ryder Cup, that’s for sure. It could be an Augusta thing for him. For one thing, he may want it too much. Getting out of your own way is not an easy thing.
Ritter: I don’t know how much 2011 haunts him, but my guess is not much. It’s not like he’s still snapping drives off No. 10 into the cabins. I think missing that shorty for eagle Sunday on No. 2 short-circuited him, and he just couldn’t get it back. It really is shocking that he turned out to be such a non-factor Sunday afternoon.
4. Both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson came into this Masters carrying big expectations but had disappointing performances; Tiger closed with a three-under 69 to finish at one over in a tie for 32nd place, while Mickelson shot 67 on Sunday to finish T-36. Which player had the more underwhelming week?
Sens: Mickelson. As impressive as Tiger has been since his return, the expectations around him headed into Augusta were ridiculously out of whack, even by the usual out of whack Tiger-related expectations. It was more realistic to expect a better showing from Mickelson, who has looked good for much of the year and had the good fortune of not undergoing spinal fusion surgery less than a year ago.
Berhow: They both can’t land a driver on this planet. But yeah, it’s gotta be Phil. Tiger might have had more hype around him, but Phil was still the guy I expected to play better. He showed signs early but faded away with a Friday 79, tied for his worst-ever score here. I thought Tiger played worse than a 32nd-place finish represents, but there’s nothing wrong with that. He just played 72 holes at the Masters and could be in the mix next month at the Players. Let’s not get greedy about this comeback!
Marksbury: I want to say Tiger because I was one of the crazies who picked him to win this week, but you all make a good case for Phil. Tiger’s play, while disappointing, wasn’t disastrous, while Phil had some outrageously low moments, including a triple-birdie-bogey-double stretch in the second round, and a whiff (!) in the third round. I know we like to describe Phil’s play as “mercurial,” but that’s just not the Phil we expect to see at Augusta — or ever.
Dethier: I’d say Tiger’s week was more underwhelming. Phil fell off the pace spectacularly, while Woods just never got anything going. Weeks like this, TW makes it look like he’s playing a harder game than everyone else. It was nice to see him make a little run on the back nine today, at least.
Ritter: Tiger came in with the most hype, but Phil seemed like the smarter bet. His Friday afternoon crack-up was a shocker.
Bamberger: Well, underwhelming is a little strong. They’re legends and Hall of Famers who are running out of time. It wasn’t like they didn’t try. Neither played well. That’s golf.
5. In 30 years, what will this 2018 Masters be remembered for?
Berhow: Despite all the great storylines we had coming in and the dream final four on Sunday, I’ll probably most remember Sergio’s 13 (I would say Spieth if he made that putt on 18). A close second is that this was the first time I realized how much I admire the silverware in the Augusta National clubhouse. So heavy.
Sens: Sergio’s 13 is going to live in infamy, no doubt. But I’ll remember it for Reed’s gutsiness on Sunday playing head-to-head with Rory. They weren’t trading haymakers, as at the Ryder Cup, but every time Reed needed to answer, he did. First, when Rory drew close, and then when Spieth made that crazy charge. What I’d like to forget is the green jacket ceremony. That has always been among the most agonizing few minutes in television, but this year it was as if CBS had someone standing off camera saying, “No, no! Make it even more stiff and awkward!”
Marksbury: To be honest, no defining characteristic of this Masters immediately comes to mind — we’ve had so many great Sunday finishes over the last few years that this one just feels like par for the course. But I like where Josh Sens is going. I think when we look back, we’ll remember this year as the moment Patrick Reed asserted himself on a major stage. Yep, I’m going there. This win is the first of what I believe will be a solid handful of majors before Reed’s career is complete.
Dethier: 30 years?! Most people couldn’t tell you who won the Masters in 2016. I’ll remember this as the first time I played Augusta National. That’s right — this first-timer won the media lottery! It’ll be 48 and raining on the first tee tomorrow (lining up my excuses already), and I caught a fair amount of hate in the media center, but I suspect that trip ’round the National will leave a lasting impression.
Bamberger: I think this one will have legs, memory-wise, at least for Americans. Three American golfers in their 20s at the height of their powers.
Ritter: Spieth almost completed an absurd 9-shot comeback. That’ll be remembered, especially his brilliant approach on 13, which didn’t produce the eagle it deserved. Other highlights: Reed’s grit; Rickie’s near miss; GOLF.com’s rental-house Ping-Pong.
Finally, it needs to be asked: Is Patrick Reed now officially one of the top five players in the world?
Berhow: No. (But he’s getting closer!)
Sens: What Berhow said. But I think it’s fair to say that he will officially be wearing pink on Sundays from now on.
Marksbury: It looks like this week’s performance launched Patrick from No. 24 to No. 11 in the world rankings, and I think that’s totally appropriate. Not quite the top five, but if he keeps playing like this, he’ll be there before we know it.
Dethier: No, but this week he was! And that’s worth a hell of a lot.
Ritter: Let’s say he’s top 10. Nothing wrong with that.
Bamberger: No. But he did play Augusta National in fewer strokes than anybody else, and I’d rather have that.