Peaking at the Perfect Time, Patrick Reed Wins The Northern Trust

JERSEY CITY — It was like old times for Patrick Reed, who stood triumphant on the 18th green at Liberty National Golf Club as scattered cries of “Captain America” rang out.

Sunday was the first time since Reed’s last victory, at the 2018 Masters, that he entered the final round with the lead. Reed, who closed with a two-under 69 for a 72-hole total of 16-under 268, said of course Georgia was on his mind.

He drew on the moments at Augusta National in which he had to weather other players’ charges. But that experience was not Reed’s touchstone for grinding out a one-stroke victory over Abraham Ancer at The Northern Trust this weekend in the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events.

Two years ago, Reed helped lead the United States to a victory in the Presidents Cup at this same course, compiling a 3-1-1 record against the International squad. From the opening tee shot on Sunday, Reed’s final-group pairing with Ancer, of Mexico, felt like a sneak preview of this year’s Presidents Cup, which will be held in Australia in December.

There were spectators cheering for the 28-year-old Ancer in Spanish and others rooting for the 29-year-old Reed in New Jersey-ese. “You know that you’re going to have a lot of fans behind you, being the U.S.A. guy on the tee box,” Reed said, “and to see how well they respected not just me but how much they embraced and respected him was awesome to see.”

Ancer birdied two of the last three holes to slip ahead of Harold Varner III, whose tie for third with Spain’s Jon Rahm was his best-ever showing on the tour. Varner closed with a 68 for a 72-hole total of 14-under, helping him vault from 102 in the FedEx Cup standings to 29th, the biggest improvement by any player.

Varner’s season isn’t the only one that just got stretched like a piece of salt water taffy. With his second-place finish, Ancer secured a spot on his first International team, ensuring that he will become the first player from his country to participate in the event.

ImageAbraham Ancer missed out on his first career PGA Tour victory by one stroke.
Abraham Ancer missed out on his first career PGA Tour victory by one stroke.CreditJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Ancer, who began the week 67th in the FedEx Cup standings, needed a stout showing to extend his run for at least one more week. With his runner-up finish, he secured spots in the 70-man BMW Championship in suburban Chicago, starting Thursday, the 30-man Tour Championship next week and next year’s Masters, where he’ll make his debut.

As Ancer absorbed all the perks of finishing second, he let go of his disappointment over missing out on his first PGA Tour victory. It was his fourth close call of the season, after previous fourth-, fifth- and eighth-place finishes.

“I was like, ‘Man, this is not too bad,’” Ancer said. “I’m extremely happy, proud of the way I performed today.”

He added, “I still obviously want that ‘W’ but really proud with all the boxes that I checked off today.”

It was Reed’s seventh PGA Tour title and his second FedEx Cup playoff win, after The Barclays in 2016. The title ended a torturous 16-month drought between his victory at the Masters and his return to the winner’s circle Sunday.

He had expected his first major title to launch him to a higher level of consistency and to regular contention at major tournaments. But after chasing his Masters victory with a fourth at the United States Open, Reed didn’t finish inside the top 9 in his next six major starts — and twice missed the cut.

Some first-time major winners become complacent. Not Reed, who said, “I felt like I almost did the opposite. I almost felt like I pressed harder and worked harder and tried harder.”

All the extra time and toil earned him was fatigue. After he missed the cut at the P.G.A. Championship at Bethpage Black on Long Island, Reed decided that his dreadful results called for drastic measures.

He put his clubs away for ten days and took a two-week vacation to the Hamptons with his wife, Justine, and their two small children. On the last four days of their stay, Reed resumed playing golf with a friend, Jimmy Dunne. He expected to feel rusty, but on his first hole back, at the National Golf Links, he drove a par 4 and drained the eagle putt.

“I was playing rather than actually grinding,” Reed said.

He’s gotten hot at the perfect time. With the victory, Reed, who has four top-10 finishes, jumped to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings behind the world No. 1, Brooks Koepka, and directly ahead of Rory McIlroy, who has two victories, including the tour’s signature event, and 13 top-10 finishes.

Reed hasn’t yet secured a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team, which will be captained by Tiger Woods. He has some work to do: He is 12th in the points standings, and the top eight will be named to the team at the conclusion of the BMW Championship. Woods will use discretionary picks to fill out the team.

“Seeing the Statue of Liberty on every hole and having the fans yell ‘Captain America’ and ‘USA’ all week, it definitely was on my mind,” Reed said. “But the biggest thing for me was just to put that behind me and just focus on the golf I’m playing, because at the end of the day, if you play good golf, it all takes care of itself.”

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