And so, after three rounds and 54 holes, we finally came to the final day of the 2018 Masters at Augusta.
Going into day four, world number four Patrick Reed held an unlikely three-shot lead after three exceptional rounds of golf, while three-time Grand Slam champions Rory McIlroy were also in contention as part of the chasing pack.
Still, few of us could have guessed how the final day of the tournament would eventually play out, as the world’s best players fought tooth and nail for the prestigious green jacket.
Reed Prevails as McIlroy Falters
Ultimately, the decisive Sunday ended as it began, with the relatively unfancied Reed at the head of the leaderboard. This meant that he won his maiden Grand Slam by a single stroke, while becoming the first man ranked outside the top 20 to prevail at Augusta since Charl Schwartzel in 2011.
While the American’s performance was far from spectacular, he played with consummate ease and economy to shoot a one-under 71 and finish 15 under overall. He managed to maintain his cool even as he closed in on victory along the back nine, parring the potentially difficult 18th hole with a calm display of putting.
Although Reed’s victory hardly came as a surprise given his lead entering day four, the failure of world number seven McIlroy to mount a genuine challenge was disconcerting. The Ulsterman, who was chasing his first green jacket and the career Grand Slam, faded badly with a two-over 74, finishing as the only man in the top 16 to shoot an over-par round on Sunday.
The 28-year old was let down badly by his putting, which undermined some of his excellent approach play and the occasional, imperious iron shot.
He also managed to record a single birdie in the closing 14 holes, which was incredible given his superb, bogey-free 65 in worse conditions just 24 hours previously. Ultimately, while McIlroy’s decline did not match his collapse at the 2011 Masters (when he squandered a four-shot lead with a final round 80), it was arguably more disappointing give the Ulsterman’s current status as one of the most experienced and talented players in the world.
Spieth and Fowler Lead the Charge on Day Four
As McIlroy faltered, it was left to Reed’s American contemporaries Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth to lead the charge on day four.
In fact, the most remarkable performance of the day belonged to the unflappable Spieth, who at one point managed to share the lead with Reed as he threatened to produce one of the greatest final rounds in Masters history.
Starting the day a staggering nine shots behind Reed, Spieth carded five birdies along the front nine to vanquish the field and move clear in second, before four more birdies left him 14-under and level with his rival with just three holes to play.
At this stage, Spieth looked set to card a title-winning round of 63, but the turning point came as Reed secured an impressive birdie at the 14th. Shortly afterwards, Spieth scored a bogey at the last, falling two shots behind and just short of a remarkable win. Still, his round of 64 will live long in the memory, and it certainly sets him up for a stellar season.
It was ultimately Fowler who pushed Reed the hardest, as he fired a superb 67 to finish 13-under for the tournament and miss out by a single stroke. This included an exceptionally strong finish as he carded six birdies in his final 11 holes, as Fowler crept closer to Reed and moved by stealth in Spieth’s slipstream.
As he secured birdies on the 12th, the 13th and 15th holes, he looked well-placed to at least to earn a play-off, but Reed held his nerve superbly to resist this challenge at the last.
What Else Happened on Day Four?
While Reed and the chasing pack understandably dominated the headlines on day four, there were notable achievements throughout the field on Sunday.
This included Paul Casey’s impressive final round of 65, which left him a respectable five-under for the tournament and tied in 15th place. Like Spieth, however, he was nine-under by the time he reached the 16th hole, putting him within touching distance of the Augusta National record of 63 (currently held by Nick Price and Greg Norman).
This would have been a stunning achievement and made for great viewing, even though bogeys at the last two ultimately saw him card a solid 65.
Four-time champion Tiger Woods will also be quietly satisfied at his return to the big time, as he continues to recover from the back surgery that he underwent last year. Overall, he earned a share of 32nd place, as he completed his first four rounds at a major since the 2015 Masters tournament.
Woods also shone on day four with a superb round of gold, carding an eagle at the 15th in a round of 69 that left him just one-over for the tournament.
The Bottom Line – What Did we Learn from the Masters?
It’s fair to say that Reed’s win represents the depth that exists in the modern men’s game, as he became the ninth first-time winner in the past 12 Masters.
Interestingly, he also became the fourth American younger than 27 to currently hold one of the four major titles, joining Brooks Keopka (U.S. Open), Justin Thomas (USPGA Championship) and that man Spieth (the Open).
We can expect this spirit of competitiveness to continue throughout 2018, while the sudden return of Spieth’s putting game will certainly earmark him as a key contender in the remaining majors this year. The same can probably not be said for McIlroy, who will have to continue a four-year wait to complete his career Grand Slam and continues to be let down by lapses in focus during major tournaments.
Whatever happens in the coming months and years, however, there’s no doubt that golf fans should brace themselves one of the most competitive and unpredictable eras in the history of this prestigious sport.