AUGUSTA, Ga. – For both men, it’s been a surprising lack of success.
Combined, Henrik Stenson and Patrick Reed had played in 16 Masters prior to this week. They had zero top 10s to show for it.
That was especially baffling in light of the fact that Stenson didn’t seem to have a game ill-suited for Augusta. And he had multiple top-10 showings in every other major. Reed didn’t have a top 10 in any major until last year’s PGA Championship, but that drought was a surprise in itself.
Add on, too, that Reed played his college golf locally at Augusta State (now named Augusta University), and his lack of success at Augusta National also came across as a head-scratcher.
Well, at least for a day something changed.
Stenson and Reed both fired opening 3-under 69s Thursday at the Masters, putting the pair in a tie for fourth and in early contention for the green jacket. While Jordan Spieth went on a late birdie blitz to distance himself a bit from the field, Stenson and Reed are just three shots back.
So what was the difference Thursday? For Stenson, this result has come from a long process of learning how to play this course.
“You’ve got to be aggressive at the right times, and you’ve got to know when not to go for it at times (at Augusta),” Stenson said. “You’ve got to accept that there’s such a small margin between a really good chance for birdie and a guaranteed bogey around this golf course. And I feel like I’m pretty pleased with the work and what I’ve learned over the years, so I pretty much know where to hit it and what to do on every pin location and every hole.”
Reed has expressed recently that he’s had trouble getting comfortable with Augusta’s greens in the past, pointing to his putting numbers as a culprit in four Masters showings that have netted zero top 20s.
After his Thursday round, Reed clarified his thoughts there. The 27-year-old noted that his tough time on the greens at Augusta may’ve come in part due to faulty course management.
“I felt like throughout the past I’ve hit a lot of really good golf shots here, played really solid, but I always seem to leave myself just above every hole,” Reed said. “With doing that, you have to putt so defensive around here and going into today and really throughout the round I really felt like I managed that really well. I left myself below the hole on a lot of the holes or at worst pin-high.”
Reed also made clear that just because he posted a 3-under 69 doesn’t mean he’s grown entirely comfortable with the putting surfaces.
But progress is being made.
“I’m getting there. I feel a lot more comfortable now (on these greens) than I did in the past,” Reed said. “It was just one of those things, you just have to learn to see more than there is. I mean no matter what, every time you read a putt here, you’re reading it, you like well that’s a cup out. Well, try two cups. Because every time you play double what you see the ball will either go in the middle or creep in on the low side.”
Stenson, 42, didn’t fret too much about his Masters record entering the week. Rather than playing the course excessively, the Swede didn’t even complete an 18-hole practice round ahead of this version.
The 2016 British Open champion said he came in Tuesday afternoon and played four holes that day, adding on a nine-hole round Wednesday.
That strategy seemed to pay dividends.
But could Thursday just have been a fluke round chalked up to being in supremely good form?
Reed indicated he still has room for improvement. As for Stenson, he seems optimistic as he knows he posted a strong round while not having his A-game.
“Today playing that score without feeling like you’re playing your best is definitely promising,” Stenson said. “I just hope I can turn that notch up, and see where that can take (me) on Sunday.”