By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Patrick Reed fought off furious back-nine challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler to record a one-shot victory at the U.S. Masters on Sunday and claim his first major championship.
The final round began with Reed holding a three-shot advantage over Rory McIlroy, but while the Northern Irishman’s challenge faded Reed had to hold off his hard-charging U.S. Ryder Cup team mates to win the coveted Green Jacket.
The 27-year-old held his nerve to drain a four-foot par putt at the 18th for a final round one-under 71 and end Fowler’s hopes of a playoff.
“It was going to be tough, anytime trying to close off a golf tournament is really tough,” said Reed, who posted a winning total of 15-under 273. “The 18th in the past has given me so many issues.
“Having to par the last hole to win felt right. Hit an iron shot what I thought was perfect and then to stay up there on that ridge.
“I knew there was no way to leave it short. I kind of mis-hit it and it went 3 1/2 feet by. I’m just happy I’ve had that left-center putt before.”
Fowler, who remains without a major title, had put the pressure on with a back nine charge that featured six birdies over his final 11 holes, including one at the last, but his 67 and 14-under total would not be enough.
Before Fowler took up the challenge of overhauling Reed, it was Spieth leading the chase with a sizzling eight-under 64 that matched the lowest final round at a Masters to finish two shots back.
It was another remarkable Masters performance by the 24-year-old, who has now won the Green Jacket once, finished runner-up twice and settled for third on Sunday.
McIlroy, three shots back and playing in the final pair with Reed, had to get off to a quick start and he did just that, chopping two shots off the deficit in just two holes.
Reed sent his opening tee shot deep into the pines and opened his account with a bogey and McIlroy amped up the pressure with a birdie at the second while Reed settled for a par as the American’s advantage narrowed to one stroke.
But the rollercoaster ride had only just begun as the third hole saw a two-shot swing back to Reed, who birdied the hole while McIlroy took a bogey to put both men back where they started.
While Reed steadied himself McIlroy unraveled, taking bogeys at five and eight to drop into a pack that included Spaniard Jon Rahm and Fowler four back of the front-running Reed.
McIlroy, who squandered a four-shot lead at Augusta National in 2011 by shooting a final round of 80, was out of the race by the turn and will have to wait another year for his chance to complete the career grand slam.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar/Peter Rutherford)