SAN DIEGO — In discerning, golf-watching living rooms across the world on Sunday, the snickers must have been plentiful when Patrick Reed overcooked his approach on the 10th at Torrey Pines South in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Mid-round holes are rarely a dramatic centerpiece on the day they hand out the trophy, but nothing about this tournament had been ordinary.
But that’s the fascinating thing about Reed: He has a remarkable ability to cancel the noise and excel under the kind of pressure that turns rocks into diamonds. That’s why he’s been “Captain America” in the Ryder Cup. Why he won his first major at the 2018 Masters despite the chatter that week of his estrangement from his parents, who watched the final round just miles away from their home in Augusta.
And he did it again at Torrey Pines, which certainly played like a major, with Reed scoring only six under for three rounds on the South after opening the tournament with a 64 on the North Course. (Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate finished at one under for four rounds in the 2008 U.S. Open here.)
At No. 10 on Sunday, with Reed leading by one shot over Viktor Hovland, it could have all unraveled when he was short-sided over the back of the green, 18 feet behind the flagstick. You’ve got to figure the most sarcastically uttered line among viewers at that point was: “Plugged lie?” But Reed gazed down at where the ball appeared to be—it couldn’t be picked up by the cameras—set up, and fashioned a magnificent pitch that settled three feet from the cup for a par save.
Reed survived any bluster from the golf gods, and from there he made eight straight pars—three of them impressive saves—and a birdie at the last to shoot four-under-par 68 and finish at 14 under. Five shots clear of five chasers, Reed is the biggest runaway winner in the Farmers since Tiger Woods’ last regular-tour victories here in 2013 (four strokes).
Hovland, trying for his second win in just over two months and the third of his young career, faded with three bogeys on the back to score 71 and finish in a tie for second with Tony Finau (69), Henrik Norlander (69), Xander Schauffele (69) and Ryan Palmer (70).
For Reed, who said he was proud of the result because he’s been working on a revamped swing with instructor David Leadbetter, one word stood out in describing the win: resilience. He was speaking of the golf, but it applied to everything the entire week.
“I think that’s the biggest thing is when you play a U.S. Open-type golf course, where you play a place that’s as long as this is, you have to have resilience,” Reed said. “You look at all the great players throughout times, all of them are really resilient. It doesn’t really matter what’s going on around them, what’s going on on the golf course, whether they’re getting good breaks or bad breaks, they seem to really figure out a way to get the job done.
“That’s golf,” Reed added with a grin. “That’s what it’s supposed to do. That’s why I love the game. It throws punches at you, you throw punches at it, and at the end of the day hopefully you’re the one standing.”
Ranked 11th in the world coming into the Farmers, Reed will climb back into the top 10 with the win that gives him a victory in each of the last four seasons.
But CBS analyst Nick Faldo may have said it best when Reed was walking up the 18th hole on Sunday. A “dark cloud” will hang over this one, the eight-time major winner concluded.
The mixed reaction to Reed’s win already was expressed in the responses of fans and at least two high-profile players. As Reed played the final hole on Sunday, and within a matter of seconds, people on balconies at the adjacent Lodge at Torrey Pines yelled, loudly enough for Reed to hear, in sequence “Let’s go Patrick!” “F—ing cheater!” “Captain America!” and “Cheaters prosper!” Reed, wearing red, white and blue, tipped his cap to the “Captain America” comment.
After his round, Schauffele said he hadn’t seen the video of Reed from Saturday, adding, “I just have heard talk amongst the boys out here.
“I would not put myself and create a situation like that,” Schauffele said of Reed’s Saturday controversy. “If my ball’s embedded, I usually will wait and call someone and kind of wait until everyone’s on the same page, wait to look at the video. So I try to avoid situations for that reason. He did everything by the book, according to the official and everyone stood by there.”
Then Schauffele delivered a more pointed and possibly damaging assessment: “Obviously, the talk amongst the boys isn’t great, I guess, but he’s protected by the tour and that’s all that matters, I guess.”
Rory McIlroy found himself caught up in the swirl of Reed’s controversy when it was pointed on social media that he, too, had used the “embedded ball” rule—without consulting an official—to get relief after playing his second shot on the par-5 18th hole Saturday. The tour released a statement on Sunday morning saying it had reviewed McIlroy’s actions and that they were deemed proper, just as they had said was the case with Reed the previous evening.
McIlroy said after a fourth-round 73 that tied him for 16th place that before seeing the video of Reed, “I was sort of giving … Patrick the benefit of the doubt because it seemed to me like it was a bit of a storm in a teacup. You’re trying to deal with the info that you have at the time, and the info that Patrick had at the time was the ball hadn’t bounced, and the info I had at the time was the same. I went down, and on my life that ball of mine was plugged; it was in its own pitch mark, so I took relief.
“[Saturday] was one of those things that I guess Patrick and I both went on the information that we had and made those determinations. I guess people can jump to conclusions, but at the same time we were, I guess, well within our rights to do what we did. … My ball was certainly plugged on 18, Patrick felt his ball was plugged on 10, and we proceeded on from there.”
The comparisons between the challenging questions Reed faced after his Masters victory and his Farmers win fall short in one important area. At Augusta, Reed was pressed on matters of his private life, and anybody who attended or saw the Sunday evening press conference knows just how painfully awkward the exchange was on the subject. Reed set his jaw and offered, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
This time, however, the 30-year-old Reed is being questioned by many in the golf community for his competitive integrity. There are plenty of high-profile voices who are perplexed by the way Reed handled Saturday’s situation on 10—including Nick Faldo, Ian Baker Finch, Frank Nobilo and Dottie Pepper from the CBS broadcast crew that televised the weekend rounds, and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee—from picking up his ball before anyone else could see the lie to his response afterward that he wouldn’t have made the “embedded ball” rules choice had he known his ball bounced before settling in the rough.
Reed handled the questions about it with aplomb, but it left others queasy, considering his rules controversy at the 2019 Hero World Challenge, when cameras showed him twice sweeping sand away from behind his ball during practice swings. The result was a two-stroke penalty that Reed both acknowledged, but then minimized by saying it was just one camera angle.
On Sunday evening, Reed was again asked several questions about the controversy, but said he did not see it tarnishing the victory. He repeated that tour officials said he handled his decision at 10 on Saturday properly. “At that point it put it to bed for me,” he said, “and I was able to move on and come out today and do what I was supposed to do.”
Every round on tour, players use the rules to their advantage, as Reed and McIlroy did on Saturday. Ultimately, only Reed knows with any certainty whether his ball was plugged or not, and the rules say he’s the only one whose opinion matters. He may not win in the court of golf’s public discourse, but Reed has proven time and again that he doesn’t care much what other people think.