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Reed prevails at Kapalua without best game

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Ten months ago, his bold words elicited a collective chuckle across the golf landscape. Riding the adrenaline of his first victory in a World Golf Championship event at Doral, Patrick Reed might well have ripped off his shirt when he proclaimed himself “one of the top five players in the world.”

The comment was, well, considered cocky by some. Borderline arrogant. To others, it was harmless, almost cute, kind of like your little nephew telling you he’s going to grow up to be an astronaut one day.

Was Reed a top-5 guy? Not by the Official World Golf Ranking, which had him at 20th at the time. But in his mind he was, and if he puts in the hard work that makes him believe that, then more power to him. At 24, he continues to barge his way onto bigger stages, and he continues to back up the brashness with solid play.

The latest example would be the trophy he collected on Monday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. For Reed, that’s four PGA Tour titles (and $6.2 million in earnings) in only 35 starts dating to the 2013 Wyndham Championship. He joins a trio of players who, in the past 20 years, have won four or more times before their 25th birthday, and you’ve heard the names: Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy. Good company.

For further perspective, here’s a factoid that will open some eyes: Reed has as many PGA Tour victories (four) as fellow twentysomethings Jason Day (two), Rickie Fowler (one) and Jordan Spieth (one) combined.

Truthfully, Reed had to be as shocked as anyone sitting next to that trophy Monday evening at Kapalua. When Reed stepped to the 15th tee, he was four shots behind Jimmy Walker, and Walker was showing no sign of letting up. In his mind, Reed was thinking that a strong finish – maybe three birdies on his way in – might propel him to second place. That would be a fine start to the new year.

But then he birdied 15 and hit the shot of the tournament on the short par-4 16th. From 80 yards out, he hit a soft approach with his 57-degree wedge so that he wouldn’t spin the ball off the front of the green. The ball pitched several feet behind the flagstick, then spun back into the hole for an eagle-2. Suddenly, Reed was 21 under and in the thick of things.

He’d miss a short par putt at 17 and get the shot back with a long two-putt birdie from 78 feet at the par-5 18th to at least give himself a chance. When Walker failed to make a birdie coming in, the two Ryder Cup teammates headed back to the 18th tee in a playoff. Walker then faltered again, missing the green well right with his second shot and pitching his third shot over the green. Reed ended things emphatically by holing an 18-foot birdie putt for the triumph.

Reed is a bit of a lone wolf out on Tour. His wife, Justine, is very much a part of his success. She caddied for him through his days as a Monday qualifier and in his first few victories, then handed off the bag to her brother last spring when she and Patrick welcomed their first child, a daughter. Justine is no idle bystander now that she’s outside the ropes. She stands with Patrick on the practice tee and serves as her husband’s eyes when his swing goes awry.

Reed did something at Kapalua that good players learn to do. He prevailed without his best stuff. He missed a lot of good birdie looks through the week, and until Monday didn’t drive the ball all that well, missing an average of five fairways a round on a course that’s as wide and generous as Tour players will see all season. But he accepted his mistakes, didn’t beat himself up, and managed his game. He hung around. It paid off handsomely.

Basically, Reed goes about things his own way, forges his own path. He was so fiery in his Ryder Cup matches that the partisan Scottish crowds at Gleneagles wanted to loathe him, yet they found themselves oddly charmed by him. He showed himself to be a fierce competitor (going 3-0-1 in his debut) and earned a good deal of respect from his captain and from players on both teams.

His goals for 2015 include winning multiple times, finding more consistency (read: more top 10s) and performing better at the majors. Last year, he played all four for the first time and was pretty much invisible, missing cuts at Augusta and Royal Liverpool and finishing no better than T-35 (U.S. Open).

The confidence continues to grow, and his success continues to build. There are a lot of quality young players in the game today. Why is that has Reed been able to win so often so soon?

“I think it’s just because I’m stubborn,” he said. “ I don’t really care. I go out there and just kind of focus on my golf game, and I don’t really care what anyone else is doing or however anyone else hits the shot. I just know how I can do it, and you know, what works for me and what makes me … allows it to be more consistent under pressure.”

The only thing better than opening one’s year with a victory at Kapalua? Getting to hang out in paradise for an extra few days on a family vacation. Reed says he’ll be hanging out on the beach and maybe playing a couple rounds for fun. Next up for him will be a title defense at the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs, Calif., where last year he blitzed the field by opening 63-63-63.

An updated world ranking now rates Patrick Reed as No. 14 on the planet. Good luck finding 13 players who are performing better than he is. Rory McIlroy, maybe, and as confidence goes, Reed spots McIlroy no space in that department. Nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps all the folks so quick to jump on Reed after his bold choice of words at Doral last March owe the young man an apology. Or at least a second look. For all he does is continue to deliver.

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