<
>

Patrick Reed raises game with Ryder Cup spot on the line

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- My fellow Americans, this is exactly what you've been waiting for.

All right, so maybe not all of it. Not the part where Rickie Fowler, who looked assured of a Ryder Cup qualifying spot with four holes to play at the Barclays, stumbled down the stretch and failed to get it done.

And not the part where Zach Johnson, who hasn't won since last summer, backed his way onto the roster with a 48th-place finish. Or the part where Bubba Watson never made a serious run at those last spots this week, or where J.B. Holmes parlayed an impressive start into a 41st-place result, or where Jim Furyk also finished 41st, or where Matt Kuchar was 64th, each of them unable to mount a serious challenge for one of those automatic berths.

Sooooo -- not exactly what you've been waiting for. But maybe, kinda, sorta what you've been waiting for?

That's because after three losing teams this decade, after watching U.S. player after U.S. player implode with the pressure on, after seeing too many of these instances of guys backing their way onto the team or collapsing when the pressure is greatest, along comes Patrick Reed.

Reed knew exactly what was at stake entering the final round. Starting the week in the eighth and final qualifying position, he needed to retain that spot by day's end in order to clinch a place on the team. But he was also trying to win the tournament, a task which may or may not have proved beneficial to the Ryder Cup subplot.

Like every pro golfer since the beginning of time, Reed contested that he was only focused on playing his best golf and everything else would fall into place. Hell, Tiger Woods offered that idea so much that Nike once made it an advertising slogan: Winning Takes Care of Everything.

Reed was no different. Even after he won, he insisted that he was only thinking about getting the victory, not the Ryder Cup residuals.

"Coming into the week, we said, 'Well, you know what? Go ahead and do what you can do and get the job done,'" he explained. "If you go and win it takes care of everything else: Gets you into the Tournament of Champions, gets you into Ryder Cup, gets you to lead FedEx. It takes care of everything."

That's a rational explanation, except for the fact that the Ryder Cup tends to do irrational things to players.

Guys who have hit a million tee shots in their lives freeze over the first swing and just hope to make contact. Guys who normally play with all the emotion of a basset hound start pumping fists and slamming clubs. And yes, guys who say they're simply trying to play their best and everything will take care of itself often wind up thinking too much about the repercussions.

So while it's a mature stance for Reed to insist he's just attempting to compartmentalize a win at Bethpage Black without worrying about the impending Ryder Cup scenario, that's easier said than done.

This is a player who bleeds red, white and blue. This is a player who received global appeal by shushing the home European fans two years ago. This is a player who earned a late opportunity to represent the U.S. at the recent Olympics and jumped at it.

With all of that and much more on the line Sunday afternoon, Reed was solid and efficient, if not flashy and dominant.

He entered the day trailing by one stroke, and finished it winning by one. He posted a 1-under 70. He hit a few brilliant shots and a couple that he'd like to have back.

As if he needed more pressure, Reed is the type who prides himself on being a winner. Four victories on the PGA Tour by the age of 26 have assisted in that idea, but he hadn't done much to add to that résumé lately. His most recent win had come in January of last year, while this season he owned nine previous top-10s -- including two runner-up finishes -- without any titles.

"Top-10'ing is great," he said. "Top-10'ing is great for making a living. But at the end of the day, every time we play golf tournaments, we don't settle for top-10s. We're going out there to try to get a W and try to get hardware and try to get a trophy. Because at the end of the day, a bunch of top-10s, it's great. But it's going to make you be on that bubble, as you saw. I've had -- it feels like a hundred top-10s this year, and I've just kind of stayed there on that six, seven, eight, nine stretch, on the Ryder Cup (standings), and it takes something like a win to be able to solidify yourself."

Reed solidified himself this week. He solidified his place on this leaderboard, which in turn solidified his place on the Ryder Cup team.

The entire performance of U.S. players might not have been exactly what American fans have been waiting for, but Reed's ability to force his way onto the team rather than backing into it should be taken as a heavy dose of exactly what's been needed.