AUGUSTA, Ga. — Patrick Reed came to eighth-grade career day at St. Aloysius School dressed as a professional golfer.
The memory for him now is hazy at best, but there he was in slacks and a golf shirt, bouncing a golf ball on a wedge with the kind of dexterity that made you take notice.
It was that ball or another one like it that Reed signed, like a pro, for classmate Blake LeJeune.
“He told him, ‘I’m going to be famous one day, here’s a ball,’ ” said Patrice LeJeune, Blake’s mom and a first-grade teacher at SAS. “It was kind of funny.”
Funny yes, but telling of the kind of unshakeable confidence Reed had at a formative age when he was growing up in Baton Rouge.
The kind of confidence he will need if he is to hold on to his lead over the final two rounds of the Masters and win a coveted green jacket.
Reed credited his patience with a first-round 3-under par 69 that put him in contention, three strokes back of 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth. Friday, when Spieth stumbled out of the blocks to a double bogey-bogey start, Reed surged past his frequent Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup teammate to fill the leadership vacuum.
There was no patience in Reed on Friday, just an Arnold Palmer-like charge to the front. Taking his wife Justine’s advice, he kept the driver in the bag on the par-4 first hole, kept the ball in the fairway with a 3-wood, made birdie and was off. He birdied Nos. 2 and 3 as well, stubbed his toe with a bogey on the long par-3 fourth, then ran off three straight birdies on 7-8-9 to make the turn in 31.
Again a bogey on 10, but Reed surged to 10-under with birdies at 13, 14 and 15. The closing stretch was a little shaky — a three-putt bogey on 16, a scrambling par from the trees left of 17 fairway, and another scrambling par from one of the colossal bunkers that sit like huge white quarries on the left side of 18 fairway.
When it was done, Reed matched Spieth’s first-round 66 and had himself a fine two-stroke lead over Australian Marc Leishman at 9-under par.
It’s hard to say anyone has played better so far in this 82nd Masters. He has just 51 putts. He is top 10 in the field in driving distance and driving accuracy (keep the driver in the bag, Patrick). He’s first in birdies or better at 39 percent, including being 8-for-8 with birdies on the par-5s, so often the path to past Masters victories.
Reed had never contended in a major until the PGA Championship in August, when a closing 67 left him two back of Justin Thomas at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. He had never shot in the 60s in 12 trips around Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters until Thursday.
Now he’s leading, and the question the golf world is asking is can “Captain America,” the dogged bulldog of a slew of Ryder and Presidents Cup wins, the guy who went 6-0 in match play in leading Augusta State University here to back-to-back NCAA titles, can he break through for his first major win?
Golf Channel analyst David Duval, the 2001 British Open champion, believes he can, saying Reed’s competitive makeup, “is second to none in professional golf.
“All great players from the past have thought the way I do it is the proper way to do it,” Duval continued. “That is Patrick Reed.
“It could well be his time.”
If Reed wins it, he will have earned it. Behind Leishman there is a bumper crop of major champions, eight of them in the top 13: Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose and Bubba Watson.
If Reed is nervous, anything but the confident kid from way back in the eighth grade, he didn’t show it Friday night.
“If you don’t believe you can win then you shouldn’t be in them,” Reed said. “I believe if I play the golf I know I can play I can win. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Thirty-six holes is a lot of golf left.”
A native of San Antonio, Reed was a winner from way back in his junior career. He won the 2006 Junior British Open during his time in Baton Rouge and qualified for the 2007 U.S. Amateur shortly before his 17th birthday. A three-time junior All-American, Reed led U-High to the 2006 and 2007 state titles and was individual medalist in 2007.
He hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in nearly two years, but he has been right there. He was runner-up at the Valspar Championship last month in Florida.
It’s not quite his Masters to lose, but he is close. So close that the next time he signs a ball for someone, it may be while he is wearing a green jacket.