Two of the more controversial figures in the golf world took center stage late Sunday afternoon in the final round of the WGC Mexico Championship.
Patrick Reed birdied 16 and 17 to push past Bryson DeChambeau and claim the title by a stroke. The two Americans have more in common than being in contention Sunday afternoon.
“[I congratulated him] because he’s a great player,” DeChambeau said. “There’s been a lot of stuff said in the past years, I guess you could say, with him – and even with me – and I feel like unfortunately sometimes we get quite a bad rap.
“And yeah, there’s things that we’ve done that hasn’t been right, but we haven’t got really got the best rap and we’re still trying to provide great entertainment for everyone. You know what, he’s a great player, and he’ll be a great player for a long time, and yeah, I have respect for his game.”
DeChambeau has been criticized — most notably by Brooks Koepka — for his methodical play. Reed’s villainous reputation took another step up this season when cameras caught him brushing sand away before a shot at December’s Hero World Challenge.
Koekpa added to the hate around Reed by mocking him with a “sand castles” comment last week at a SiriusXM event. And then former CBS analyst Peter Kostis weighed in during a “No Laying Up” podcast in which he said he saw Reed improve his lie four times.
The noise got louder. And that’s when Reed always seems to get better.
His one-shot victory in Mexico City might not quiet any critics. It left no doubt, however, that the 29-year-old Reed might be as resilient as anyone in golf.
He says he doesn’t listen, and that his team — wife Justine, her mother, attorneys — fill him in. Reed slips on ear pods when he arrives on the putting green and uses whatever natural powers he has to block everything out while inside the ropes.
“It didn’t bother me at all,” Reed said. “I’m on the golf course. I’m focusing on what I need to do. My team knows that when I’m playing in tournaments, I’m kind of in my zone doing my thing. I’d have to talk to my team later on to see how much it bothered them or not. Because when it’s tournament week, it’s me going out there, playing golf.”
He was part of a massive traffic jam, even by Mexico City standards, at Chapultepec Golf Club. Five players had at least a share of the lead at one point. Four were tied headed for the back nine.
DeChambeau hit the accelerator as just about everyone else — Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Erik van Rooyen — hit the brakes. Reed stayed in the game with a pair of par putts and a birdie on No. 12, his first since the opening hole.
Still two shots behind with four holes to play, he picked up a birdie on the par-5 15th. Blocked by the edges of trees left of the 16th fairway, he hooked a gap wedge that rode the ridge of the 16th green and fed down the slope to 3 feet.
That gave him the lead when DeChambeau bogeyed the par-3 17th, and Reed followed behind him with an 18-foot birdie putt — his 45th one-putt of the week — that all but sealed it.
He closed with a 4-under 67 for a one-shot victory, his eighth on the PGA Tour and second World Golf Championship.
What dogs Reed was a moment in the third round at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, when his ball was in an awful lie in the waste area on the 11th hole. Video clearly showed him twice swiping away sand behind his ball. In the scoring room afterward, Reed accepted the two-shot penalty, all while saying a different camera angle would have shown his club wasn’t as close to the ball as it looked and he didn’t know his club touched the sand. Twice.
It was a bad look, but it didn’t bother Reed. He shot 66 the next day and finished third.
Cameron Smith spoke out against him ahead of the Presidents Cup, where Reed was heckled so badly that his caddie, brother-in-law Kessler Karain, had an altercation with a fan and was suspended from caddying in the final session.
The next day, Reed won his first point of the week, handily beating C.T. Pan in 16 holes.
In his next PGA Tour start, Reed was in a three-man playoff at Kapalua. On his final putt in the playoff, which Thomas won, a fan cried out, “CHEATER!” as the ball was on its way. Reed says he never heard him.
In San Diego, the heckling got so bad that Reed asked security to remove a fan. He tied for sixth.
This week was the loudest.
Koepka was in the Bay Area to preview his title defense at the PGA Championship when he was asked by radio host Sway Calloway about Reed, “Was he cheating?”
“Uh, yeah. I think, yeah, yeah,” Koepka said. “I mean, I don’t know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand. But you know, you know where your club is. I mean, I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touched sand.”
Kostis on the podcast said he saw Reed tamp down grass in the rough to allow for a better lie, though he said he wouldn’t know if Reed had done it intentionally. That accusation has been made about other players in the past. But with Reed, especially now, it added a chapter.
And then he won in Mexico, moving to No. 1 in the Race to Dubai, No. 5 in the FedEx Cup, No. 8 in the world ranking.
That won’t stop the noise. Next up is the Florida swing at Bay Hill and the TPC Sawgrass, where the crowds are large and the beer is flowing.
Winning doesn’t take care of everything. But if that’s all Reed can do, he’ll take it.
— With AP