AUGUSTA, GA. — As a young married man, Patrick Reed is learning what some veterans of the marriage game have known for a while: most of your problems disappear when you start doing what your wife requests.
Justine, Reed’s wife and former Q-School caddie, told him last year before the start of the 2017 Masters to hit 3-wood off Augusta National’s challenging par-4 first hole. He hit driver. He also missed the cut.
“I’ve hit driver there into the left trees, or I think it’s straight and it’s just in the left rough,” he said Friday evening after his best-of-the-day nine-birdie 66 in the second round of the 2018 Masters. “I’ve hit it in the right bunker. Hit it all over the place. I usually make a mess of that hole.”
Like most of the rest of us, Reed had to learn the hard way.
But this year, two three-woods off No. 1 and patience everywhere else have helped him to the only two rounds in the 60s from the field and a two-stroke lead at 135 (9-under) going into Saturday. It also helped him to a par on No. 1 in Thursday’s opening round and a birdie Friday, the first in a three-straight-birdies start.
So while lots of major champions have a seat at the Leaderboard Table today, it’s this wears-his-emotions-on-his-sleeve 27-year-old bulldog from Spring, Texas who graduated from University High in Baton Rouge and led local Augusta University to a pair of NCAA Division 1 Golf Championships who leads them all going into Moving Day at Augusta National.
A five-time winner on the PGA Tour who’s played on two Ryder Cup teams, Reed is two shots better than Marc Leishman, who bogeyed just once and eagled the par-5 15th on his way to a 67 Friday.
Behind those two are eight players in the next 10 who’ve won at least one major and trail Reed by only four to seven shots.
In front of them are 36 weekend holes at Augusta National and, immediately, a forecast that calls for rain Saturday morning and wind for the day.
That’s a lot to deal with.
But so is this new Masters-minded, Augusta-wiser Reed. He needed just 22 putts Friday and is the only player in the field to birdie all the par 5s in the opening two rounds. No one’s done that since Ernie Els when he made his final Masters run in 2015.
This from a guy who shot a miserable 77-76 and missed the cut last year. The opening score came on a windy, wet day at Augusta National, one Charley Hoffman managed to navigate with an impressive 65. Hoffman is seven back at 2-under.
“I show up last year, the wind’s blowing 30 miles-per-hour, I’m hitting driver down the wrong side of the fairway into trees,” he said. “I’m in the wrong place all day.
“This year I came in thinking, ‘Just get the ball in the fairway so you can hit irons and attack pins,” he said. “My irons have been solid so far.”
Reed, whose been in some big championship-golf moments, is aware of all the golf left and all the players wanting to be where he is. He’s also aware that he’s currently where they aren’t, and has played well the past two days.
“I just have to stick to my game plan,” he said. “Get the ball in the fairway off the tee and give yourself a chance to attack and make putts and score.”
No one but Leishman was scoring in the early morning, and as the day rolled along and the greens stayed moisture-free and winds picked up, you’d have thought it would stay that way. Instead, some scores went down and others up.
“Part of how it works here,” said Matt Kuchar, who shot a scrambling 75 after an opening 68, “is there’s a fine line between birdies and bogeys.” He was the co-leader at 3-under when he hit over the green and into the azaleas Friday at 12.
Every player asked said the same thing about the conditions: fair, pretty much the same for everyone, but challenging.
“(The course) was softer yesterday, not as much wind, and the wind was blowing in the same direction yesterday, so it was easier to get a gist on exactly what it’s doing,” said Tony Finau. “Today I couldn’t tell if it was south, southwest…it was teetering all over the place. I hit some quality shots on the back, I just wasn’t getting rewarded.”
The only explanation for the scoring or lack of it is that some guys were playing well and/or scrambling well, and some weren’t.
The urban myth is that The Masters has outlawed patrons screaming “Dilly Dilly,” but maybe the tournament wants to look at making them scream it if they want Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, who played a sentimental practice round together Tuesday, to contend. For that pair, it’s been not enough dilly dilly and too much dilly dally this week on property these two dearly love and in a tournament they’ve won a combined seven times.
Three-time Masters champion Mickelson shot 79 and will start in the third group Saturday at plus-5. Friday he tripled 9 after pulling his drive, then hit a tree squarely when he tried to play his drive from under a bush. On 12, another pull put him in the water.
“On the first hole I blocked (my drive) and I was a little worried the rest of the round,” he said. “And that was kind of the case; I didn’t quite have it again.”
Woods is at 4-over (73-75), has not been in control of his irons—he went over on 4, 5, 6, and 7 during one stretch Friday—and has not putted well. Interest of the golfing public is soaring because of Woods’ first Masters appearance since 2015—CBS showed every one of his shots Friday and not one of Jordan Speith’s, the first-round leader—and many felt Woods would contend. Right now he is 13-shots back and could not even beat his Thursday-Friday playing partners, Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood.
Speith, the leader by two after an opening-round 66, played the first two holes Friday like me and the final 16 like Jordan Speith, thank goodness, to finish with a two-over 74. He sliced his opening drive right of right, took two more swings to get to the fringe and three more to get down for a double-bogey 6, then bogeyed 2, a birdie hole, with a three-putt. He bogeyed 7, then birdied both par 5s on the back to right the ship.
He’ll play in the third group Saturday with Dustin Johnson, who hurt his back when he slipped in the driveway of his rented home here on the eve of last year’s tournament. Johnson shot 73 Thursday but 68 with an eagle on 2 Friday.
They’ll be right ahead of Justin Thomas (74-667) and Finau (68-74), who was in second place after the opening round. Behind them are two other interesting pairings, Rickie Fowler (70-72)/Louis Oosthuizen (71-71) and Justin Rose (72-70)/Bubba Watson (73-69).
Roy McIlroy (69-71) goes off next-to-last before Reed and Leishman and is paired with Swede Henrick Stenson (69-70). McIlroy had three bogeys on the front but a pair of birdies on both the front and back for a 71, shares fourth place and summed up and much as anyone what it takes to win here, just about any year and in any weather against any competition.
“Stay patient,” he said. “Birdie the par 5s. Keep your putts on the high side of the hole.
“Hope for the best.”