The 2018 Masters is in the books. While it didn’t unfold in the way we had expected entering the week, it sure was memorable. It culminated with Patrick Reed winning his first major, grinding his way to a one-shot victory.
Reed’s major triumph was certainly one of the week’s main takeaways. Still, it was far from the only one.
We learned a lot about Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. While they’re in their 40s and have been in the spotlight for more than 20 years, we also learned a lot about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Meanwhile, moments from Bubba Watson and especially Sergio Garcia were, if nothing else, surprising.
These were the top takeaways from the 2018 Masters.
Captain America is now a major winner
For much of his career, Patrick Reed has resembled an Olympic swimmer or track star who generally puts up better splits in relays than in individual events. Reed was accomplished in regular tournaments, but his best displays seemed to come at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cups.
That’s a harder claim to make now.
Reed overcame a rocky start. He overcame the Sunday charges of accomplished golfers like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. He overcame not making a birdie on any of the four par-fives at Augusta National on Sunday. Reed grinded through all of that to win his first major, in the same city where he went to college.
This wasn’t the equivalent of a pitcher throwing a perfect game. This a pitcher allowing 10 hits and four walks over seven innings, but limiting his opponent to two runs and picking up the victory.
Those wins happen in majors. But they often go to men who have at least one major victory to their credit. Reed hadn’t won a major before Sunday. But he clearly knew how. As a result, Reed will have an invite to the Masters for the rest of his life.
Disappointing finish for Rory McIlroy
Heading into Sunday, it looked as though the final round would bring memories of the 2016 Ryder Cup, with Reed and McIlroy squaring off. The battle that actually unfolded was between Reed and Jordan Spieth, his longtime Ryder Cup teammate.
Really, McIlroy is going to look back on this round with a lot of frustration. Reed was struggling early. He bogeyed the first hole and made par on the par-five second. But McIlroy struggled to his own par on one and missed a short eagle putt on two. So, even though McIlroy had trimmed a three-shot deficit to one in two holes, Reed had to feel good standing on the third tee. He eventually birdied that hole (while McIlroy bogeyed) and the three-shot lead was back.
McIlroy could have applied a great deal of pressure to Reed when he was struggling early. Instead, he really let him off the hook. Spieth would mount a good battle, drawing even with Reed at one point. But with a rather significant advantage in holes remaining, Reed was always in the driver’s seat. Had McIlroy applied more consistent pressure from the start, who knows what would have happened?
With Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open, it’s a race against time. We just don’t know how many more quality chances he’ll have to complete the career grand slam. But at 28, it seems like a foregone conclusion that McIlroy will one day earn his Green Jacket to complete his career grand slam.
With that said, he’s entered Sunday with a real chance to win twice. On both occasions, McIlroy went backwards. We don’t know what would have happened if McIlroy had a more consistent start on Sunday. We don’t know how many Masters McIlroy will win in his career. What we do know is that for the second time, McIlroy let a realistic chance at winning the Green Jacket slip away.
Golf is hard
Generally speaking, experience pays off at the Masters. It just might be tough selling that to past champions like Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson.
Sergio’s experience on the 15th hole on Thursday was like watching a car accident. You knew it was brutal, but you just couldn’t look away. He put five balls in the water to take an ugly 13 on the same hole that he eagled in 2017’s final round en route to victory.
Watson’s experience, meanwhile, wasn’t quite as bad. But in a way, it was actually more surprising. During Sunday’s final round, Watson reached the par-five second hole in two. But his eagle putt found the bunker. A putt of any kind finding a bunker isn’t something we expect to see out of a hacker on Sunday at a municipal course. Yet we saw it on Sunday at the Masters from a two-time champion.
Even for the best players in the world, golf is a humbling game.
Another near miss for Rickie Fowler
Fowler’s major career is starting to unfold in a similar way to what we’ve seen from Garcia and Mickelson in the past. He’s contended in a number of majors. The 2018 Masters was his third runner-up and ninth top-10 finish. Unfortunately for Fowler, he’s yet to claim victory.
Fowler finished Sunday remarkably well, shooting six-under over his final 11 holes. The problem is that he was one-over through the first seven.
Eventually, the major triumph came for both Lefty and Sergio. Fowler is only 29, so it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will win at one point.
But like McIlroy finishing the career slam, we still need to see him close the deal.
Another first-time major winner
Tiger Woods was dominant for so long that majors for other players were hard to come by. But a lot has changed since Tiger’s last major triumph at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Since Zach Johnson’s win at the 2015 Open Championship (his second major), 10 majors have been contested. All but one of them has been won by a first-time major winner. Spieth’s win at the 2010 Open Championship is the sole exception.
Additionally, this was the eighth Masters contested since Phil Mickelson won his third Green Jacket in 2010. Similarly, all but one of those champions (Bubba Watson in 2014) was a first-time major winner.
We’re definitely in the midst of a new era in golf. We’ve seen many great golfers claim majors, but nobody has really taken the game by its throat to become the dominant player of the time.
Near redemption for Jordan Spieth
Two years ago, Spieth squandered a Masters win that was a virtual certainty. He nearly redeemed that performance at the 2018 Masters.
After taking the first round lead with a 66, Spieth shot a 74 and 71 in the second and third rounds, apparently knocking himself out of the tournament. But with a sublime round of 64 on Sunday, Spieth made himself a factor. He was even tied with Reed at one point. Ultimately, he came just short of winning a Masters that he had no business claiming.
So what does that mean? Well, Spieth wasn’t one of the many top golfers entering the 2018 Masters hot. But he clearly has a great deal of comfort on this course and will be a threat to win any Masters he tees it up in.
As for the more immediate future. Spieth hasn’t yet won in 2018. Don’t get used to saying that. It will not be the case for much longer.
Jon Rahm must find the temperament to match his talent
Only few golfers in the world can match Rahm’s talent, while nobody tops him. He has every shot needed to win multiple major championships in his career.
The problem for Rahm, which really showed in the final stretch on Sunday, is keeping his head clear. Rahm’s second shot into the par-five 15th green just missed and ended up in the water. From that point on, he let his frustration show at essentially every shot that wasn’t perfect.
Traditionally, that’s not what you want to do in golf. Being frustrated is only natural. But amnesia is usually a good quality in golfers. More to the point, you don’t ever want your frustration to be that visible.
The good news for Rahm isn’t just that he’s immensely talented. He’s also 23 and has a lot of time to get things straight. But right now, there’s work to be done.
After all these years, Phil Mickelson is still the world’s most confusing golfer
For most of his career, Lefty has been the world’s most unpredictable golfer. Only two months shy of his 48th birthday, not much has changed.
Despite making a solid eight birdies over his first two rounds, Mickelson only made the cut on the number. He then started Saturday with a triple and a bogey over his first two holes. He then played the final 34 holes at seven-under.
Mickelson is at an age where most golfers are winding down. Even if golfers in their late 40s aren’t as talented as they once were, they generally develop more consistency — especially at familiar courses.
But all these years later, a Mickelson round of golf is kind of like a late-80s/early-90s Guns N’ Roses concert. You don’t know what will happen. You do know that it will not soon be forgotten.
Return of Tiger Woods is still a work in progress
While he’d yet to win, Tiger had shown us a lot in 2018 to indicate that he’s back. We’re not going to call what happened at Augusta a setback. It just wasn’t a big step forward, either.
Tiger did shoot a final round 69. But as he failed to break par in any of his first three rounds, it was far too little too late. His even-par round of 72 in the third round really stood out.
Three golfers fired bogey-free rounds of 65 on Saturday. Woods was probably starting from too far back to give himself a realistic chance of winning. But he could have fired a round to get his name on one of the first three pages of the leaderboard. Instead, he made three bogeys (including two on par-fives), which offset the three birdies.
We’ve seen a lot of the good Tiger through the opening months of the 2018 season. But there’s still work to do before he can contend at a major.