|‘Top 5’ label sure to follow Patrick Reed|
|Wednesday, March 19, 2014 8:12 PM|
By DOUG FERGUSON
ORLANDO, Fla. — To listen to Patrick Reed after he won at Doral is to be reminded of the famous exchange at the 1989 Ryder Cup.
U.S. captain Raymond Floyd borrowed a line from Ben Hogan two decades earlier when he introduced his team as the “best 12 players in the world.” That worked in 1967 when Hogan’s team produced what remains the biggest blowout in history. On this occasion, it prompted a memorable reply from European captain Tony Jacklin.
“Does that make Seve Ballesteros the 13th best?”
Some versions of the story have a European player whispering to Nick Faldo, “That makes you No. 14.” Faldo had won the Masters earlier that year. Ballesteros was 14 months removed from his third British Open and fifth major championship.
They were bold words, indeed, especially when the Americans left England without the Ryder Cup.
Reed didn’t declare himself the best player in the world at Doral, only one of the top five.
Asked about the other four, the 23-year-old Reed mentioned Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell (with a back-handed compliment), Dustin Johnson, then he stalled and repeated that it was a “tough question.”
“There’s so many great players out there,” he said.
Reed didn’t say anything he didn’t believe. Even so, his words have proved more memorable than any of the shots he hit on the Blue Monster to capture his first World Golf Championship and third PGA Tour victory in seven months.
But golf is a quiet sport, so this kind of noise was unsettling.
Woods has been No. 1 the equivalent of 13 years. He never really talks about it unless asked (although Nike tried to do the talking for him last year).
Ian Poulter, as confident a player as there is in golf, once told a British magazine that when he plays to full potential, “it will be just me and Tiger.” A few years later, Woods bumped into Poulter in the locker room at The Gallery during the Match Play Championship and instinctively said, “Hey, No. 2.”
The highest Poulter ever got was No. 5.
Reed is No. 20 and he’s happy with that for now. To take everything he said at Doral into context, it’s clear he meant “top five” as an adjective. It’s similar to listening to football scouts talk about a player with 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash. Whether that’s the actual time, the point is that he’s very fast.
Reed is very good.
Trouble is, a lot of good players are around him. If he doesn’t know that already, he will. The Masters next month will be Reed’s first major championship. A month ago, he had never even played in a World Golf Championship.
To listen to chatter on the range and in the locker room, Reed’s comments didn’t go over that well with his peers. But he is a tough-minded kid at 23 and doesn’t really care what others think. That’s what he thinks. That’s what he said.
Speaking at Bay Hill, he didn’t back down from what he said or the reaction to it.
“I thought it was pretty funny,” Reed said. “It was interesting to see how much of a stir that got up in the media. When it comes down to it, that’s what I believe in. And that’s how I see myself as a player. But you have to have that belief in yourself. If you don’t, then you’re not going to play like it. And you’re definitely not going to be contending on Sundays.”
He doesn’t always contend on Sunday, though he’s hard to miss. He’s the guy in a red shirt and black pants. Those are his colors for the final round because that’s what Woods does and he thinks Woods is the best. Paul Casey once had a red shirt set aside for Sunday until he realized he would be in the final threesome of Woods at Firestone. He switched to lime green and later joked that Woods “owns that color.” Reed never gave it a second thought.
While his three wins since August are impressive, the consistency is lacking for Reed and that’s what top-5 players do. Reed has won all three of his PGA Tour titles with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. But he has only four other top 10s and never started within four shots of the lead in any of them.
His career is young. The road is long.
If nothing else, Reed made it perfectly clear what he thinks of his game, how hard he works and what he expects of himself. That “top five,” however, will follow him around until he actually gets there.
Floyd might have been swept up in the emotion of the Ryder Cup when he referred to his team as the “best 12 players in the world” at The Belfry. What often gets left out of the story is something else Floyd said that day.
“Words don’t matter,” he added. “It’s who performs that counts.”
Palmer says age not only obstacle for Woods: Arnold Palmer believes age will be an issue as 38-year-old Tiger Woods tries to break the major championship record.
The standard all along for Woods has been the 18 professional majors Jack Nicklaus won over 25 seasons. Woods reached his 14th major when he was 32 but he has not won another since that 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. And now the world’s No. 1 player is coping with an ailing back.
“I don’t think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did,” Palmer said Wednesday at Bay Hill. “I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors.”
Nicklaus won four of his majors after turning 38. Ben Hogan, with battered legs from a car accident, won five majors after turning 38.
Palmer, however, believes more than age is at stake for Woods.
“These young guys are tough and they’re strong,” Palmer said. “And if they continue to play as well as they’ve been playing, it’s going to be tough for anybody — whether it be Nicklaus or Tiger or whomever it would be — to continue to win major championships. And we’re talking about guys that are playing good and coming on.”
He also alluded to Woods’ mystique that appears to have eroded.
“And the fear of a player being so good that they back off, I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” he added. “I think that the players that are going to win — and win major championships — have to be physically fit, mentally fit and they’re going to continue to be tough to beat.”
Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell also said the strength of the field is as much an obstacle for Woods as his own health.
“I would say the field is probably the biggest issue he’s got, maybe 70-30 — 70 being field, 30 being body,” McDowell added. “It’s tough to say. He never ceases to amaze us. … You’d never put anything past him. He could prove us all wrong and show up at Augusta, win by 10 and you guys will be back to the keyboards and waxing lyrical and away we go again. Who knows?”
TO MEET A KING: Adam Scott was a 21-year-old from Australia in his second year a pro when he received a sponsor’s exemption to play at Bay Hill.
Walking off the first green, he saw tournament host Palmer sitting in a golf cart while greeting players.
“And he came over to me and he said, ‘Adam it’s great to have you here.’ And I couldn’t even believe he knew who I was,” Scott recalled. “His level of involvement in the game — and this was 10 years ago or more — is incredible. And he’s in touch with it and he’s relevant and he’s been a great leader for professional golf.”
Scott said players of his generation now have a responsibility to make younger players understand why Palmer is known as The King.
“I’m not going to say I’m an older guy yet but eventually I’ll be telling some younger guys about everything he did for the game, putting us in the media and on the map and making golf what it is today,” Scott added.
FLORIDA SWING: Graeme McDowell has only one score under par in his last two tournaments, though it’s hard to tell by the results. He tied for 46th in the Honda Classic and was in the hunt at the Cadillac Championship until he tied for ninth.
Attribute the scores to the Florida Swing. It’s been tough in the Sunshine State.
For the first time, the winning score from the opening three stops in Florida were all single-digit under par. Russell Henley won a playoff at the Honda Classic at 8-under par. Reed won Doral at 4-under par. John Senden was 7-under par in winning at Innisbrook.
“It’s no longer sunshine, resort golf courses. It’s a tough test of golf,” McDowell said. “And that’s great. I enjoy the Florida swing and even more so now because of how tough it is.”
Mickelson to play Texas Open
SAN ANTONIO — Phil Mickelson has decided to play the Texas Open next week. That means the 3-time Masters champion would play both Texas events before he arrives at Augusta National for the first major of the year.
Mickelson has not played the Texas Open since 1992. It now is played on the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.
It’s the second straight year the Valero Texas Open received a top player at the last minute. Rory McIlroy played last year and was runner-up to Martin Laird.
Mickelson prefers to play before majors. He previously has said he would play the Shell Houston Open, which is the week before the Masters. He had been undecided on the Texas Open.