“It’s hard to take any positives from it right now,” McIlroy said, adding, “I’ll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better, whether it be a mind-set or, I don’t know, I just didn’t have it today.”
Reed’s mind-set tends to irritate golf fans who prefer their champions to exhibit humility, not hubris. In 2014, in the afterglow of his third PGA Tour victory, Reed proclaimed himself a top-five player in the world and promptly received scoldings through social media. (He was 11th in last week’s world rankings).
But Reed’s presence on American teams that compete internationally has enabled other players to see a more endearing version of him, the one that leaves the chip on his shoulder at the team-room door.
“Obviously happy for him,” said Fowler, who lingered in the scoring area so he could embrace Reed when he came off the 18th green. “Sure, it would have been a lot more fun to beat him, but I’m happy with what we did here.”
Reed, Spieth and Fowler treated momentum as if it were a baton and they were a relay team — with Reed as both the leadoff and the anchor. He had set a blistering pace with scores in the 60s for his first three rounds. Spieth took it from there on Sunday, making birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9 on the front side and at Nos. 12, 13, 15 and 16 on the back to mount a charge that sent waves of electricity through the grounds.
Spieth was so focused on firing at the “safe zones” that gave him the best chance at birdies, he never looked at a leader board. But Fowler did, and when he saw Spieth’s name moving up, he began to dig deeper.
“I saw Jordan was off and running today, so to see that was kind of a kick in the butt,” Fowler said.
It was the eighth top-five finish in a major for Fowler, 29, who has not fulfilled the promise he flashed in 2014 when he joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men in history to finish in the top five in all four majors in a calendar year.
But Fowler believes he is getting closer. He described his 12-under total for the last two rounds as a step in the right direction.
“I am ready to go win a major,” he said, “but this was kind of the first major week that I understood that and knew that and felt that.”
Reed was making his 17th start in a major, and other than a tie for second at last year’s P.G.A. Championship, he had had forgettable results. In four previous Masters starts, Reed missed the cut twice, never broke 70 and always finished outside the top 20.
But this week, he put every part of his game together. He played the par 5s in a total of 13 under, one-putted 22 of the first 36 greens and mostly stayed out of his own way.
His goal, he said, was simply to “not worry about what’s at stake.”
After Spieth birdied the par-3 16th to move into a brief tie for the lead at 14 under, Reed birdied the par-4 14th to get it back. And after Spieth bogeyed the 18th to fall into a tie for second, Fowler birdied the 18th to move ahead of him. Still Spieth marveled at what he had nearly accomplished.
“I almost pulled off the impossible,” he said, expressing one regret. He would have liked to have played a weekend round alongside Reed, who brings out the best in him when they are paired in team events.
“Everybody loves battling Patrick,” Spieth said, “because he loves it so much and eats it up.”
The afternoon starters typically spend the morning watching the early coverage of the round to gauge how the course is playing. What they saw had to make their eyes grow wide: Five of the first seven finishers, including the three-time champion Phil Mickelson (67), broke par.
Tony Finau, who dislocated his ankle on Wednesday, made six consecutive birdies, beginning at No. 12, in his round of 66. Tiger Woods, playing his first major since 2015 after multiple back operations, had his first round under par for the tournament, shooting a 69 to finish at one over for the week.
Paul Casey was nine under for the day through 15 holes before bogeying the last two holes for a 65. Charley Hoffman set off a ground-shaking roar with an ace on the par-3 16th.