<
>

From Augusta State to Augusta National, Patrick Reed is after more big things around these parts

play
Reed (-9) in the lead at Augusta (3:08)

Patrick Reed holds a two-shot lead heading into the weekend, with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in contention. (3:08)

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Josh Gregory is America's leading scholar on the subject of Patrick Nathanial Reed, and for good reason. Reed helped his coach write the greatest story in college golf only a short par-4 away from Augusta National, at Augusta State, where Reed carried a mid-major Division I program not only to one national championship, but to two -- in a row.

"It would be the equivalent of Loyola of Chicago winning the basketball title [one] year and going on to win it again," Gregory said by phone Friday night. "That would be an identical story."

Surely Sister Jean would say Amen Corner to that.

Reed, at 9 under, is leading the Masters after two rounds. He is two strokes ahead of Marc Leishman, four ahead of Henrik Stenson. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are five shots back, and it's worth noting, since McIlroy and Spieth have won a combined seven major championships -- or seven more than Reed has won.

But beware the man who dares to dress in Tiger Woods' favorite Sunday color -- red. Reed has proven to be a red, white and blue rarity -- a Ryder Cup terminator -- and a golfer who talks a big game, plays a bigger game and genuinely believes he's destined to win multiple majors. On a day when swirling winds and dry, fast greens made Augusta National something of an angry arena, Reed shot 66, birdied three consecutive holes on three different occasions and made this tournament his to lose.

And no, Reed doesn't plan on losing it.

"As a coach, you always try to get your players to believe they are twice as good as they are," Gregory said after watching Reed's breakthrough round. "I never had to do that with Patrick. He already believed it."

So much has been said and written about Reed's high-maintenance behavior in college, but maybe not enough about the amazing achievement of carrying a nowhere program to a Hoosiers-like triumph over the NCAA big boys in consecutive years. Reed was kicked off the team at the University of Georgia, where his teammates detested him, and he was nearly voted off the team at Augusta State, where his teammates, you know, detested him.

Gregory no longer talks publicly about these turbulent times, but in 2014 he told ESPN.com that Georgia's coach, Chris Haack, had warned him Reed was a handful. The transfer then made Haack a prophet times 10. Boorish behavior and a series of team violations Gregory wouldn't specify led to Reed's two-event suspension at Augusta State to start the 2009-10 season.

"Patrick was on his final strike," Gregory said in 2014, "and he knew that. ... Even if he made the Tour at that point, maturitywise he would've gotten eaten up. I told him he was never going to make it if he didn't get things under control."

He did just enough conforming to remain at Augusta State (now known as Augusta University) and to lead the Jaguars to their first national title in 2010 by beating Peter Uihlein and Oklahoma State. Reed returned the following year to beat Harris English and his former school, Georgia, to win the 2011 title and make Augusta State the first school to go back-to-back since the University of Houston in 1985.

"We had roughly a tenth of some of the operating budgets of some of the major schools," Gregory said. "Patrick went 6-0 during those two matches. That was the start of his match-play domination."

Reed ripped out McIlroy's heart at Hazeltine two years ago to give the United States its desperately needed victory over Europe; America's most audacious player had secured his standing as America's most reliable player, too. Though Reed has won five times on Tour, his team-play magic hasn't translated to the individual majors. He placed second at last summer's PGA Championship, his only top-five in 16 major appearances. In his four previous trips to the Masters, Reed twice missed the cut and failed to place better than T-22.

play
2:03

Reed: 'The nerves should be fine'

Patrick Reed says playing in the final grouping on Saturday will be just like any other round of golf.

For Reed, it was a strange and annoying fact. His college course, Forest Hills, is only four miles away from Augusta National, where he played as an NCAA competitor and as a guest of the club's members. The course has actually seemed easier and shorter to Reed than it did during his college years, when the colder temperatures and softer fairways had him hitting nothing shorter than a hybrid into the 11th green.

Experience has made this fifth trip to the Masters the charm, at least for 36 holes.

"I've definitely learned throughout the past four times here at Augusta that you really just need to stick to your game plan and play your game and hope you can go shoot as many rounds in the 60s as possible. And try not to make those big, catastrophic mistakes," he said.

The course suits Reed's creativity and imagination around the greens, and his ability to hit the ball right to left. He added a fade to his game, said Gregory, who has been working with his former star collegian since 2015. But Reed's most lethal weapon in the bag is his blind belief in himself.

"Patrick is like a basketball player who wants the ball at the end of a game," Gregory said. "He's like a quarterback who wants the ball in a two-minute drill. He wants all the pressure to be on himself. There's not many people in the world who have that quality, and it's a hell of a quality to have. He loves the pressure, he embraces it, and if he loses, I promise you, it won't be because he was afraid."

Reed called Augusta National "basically golf's heaven." As a boy, he probably envisioned himself sinking the winning Masters putt a few thousand times.

"I don't know how many times on putting greens I was like, 'All right, well, this putt is to win the green jacket,'" Reed said. "It's one of those things that all kids growing up think about, and to have the reality to be able to sit up here after Friday and have the lead in the tournament. It's great."

Anything can happen over a potentially wet-and-wild weekend at the Masters, but this much is clear:

The Patrick Reed who won two titles at Augusta State is quite capable of winning a bigger title at Augusta National.