AUGUSTA, Ga. — When you play golf down the road from here for Augusta State University, there is a week each fall when you are invited over to Augusta National to play with a member. Patrick Reed, like all of his teammates, always loved that week; not just playing the famed track, but everything from getting to know the members to seeing the place in its quiet elegance.
Rounds would include college stuff, too, of course, like trying to recreate famous shots from the Masters.
“I think all of us tried that chip on 16,” Reed said, referencing Tiger Woods’ impossible slow roll for birdie en route to the 2005 Masters.
Reed always envisioned himself something of a Tiger Woods. He’s always been talented – he led Augusta State to two NCAA titles. He’s always been confident – he long ago declared himself a top-five player in the world despite little data to support the contention.
He boldly prefers to wear red on Sundays, like his idol Woods, even if he owns just five PGA Tour victories since turning pro in 2011 and has just one top-10 finish at a major to his name. Still, he sees himself stalking the field like Tiger. To have a green jacket slipped over that red shirt has been the dream forever.
“I don’t know how many times on putting greens I was like, ‘All right, this putt is to win the green jacket,’ ” Reed said.
Well, Patrick Reed could very well win the Masters this week, especially after his brilliant 6-under, 66 here on Friday that left him at 9-under for the tournament. He leads Marc Leishman by two strokes.
He won’t do it wearing red like Tiger Woods on Sunday, though.
Nike, which sponsors both Reed and Woods, has scripted out its color schemes so all of its golfers wear similar colors this week – Friday it was white.
“They’re doing a new thing where all the players stay in the same kind of storyline,” Reed said.
Sunday calls for pink to mimic the azaleas of Augusta. Except for Tiger, of course. He’ll be in his traditional red, even if he is unlikely to be anything but an afterthought by then.
Tiger sits tied for 40th, at 4-over, a whopping 13 shots behind the 27-year-old he inspired. That’s the reality of Woods’ golfing life right now. It’s great to be back at age 42 and competing. The downside is staring up at a leaderboard full of young guns he inspired.
Tiger was all over the place on Friday, finding bushes, creeks and more trouble than he could handle. He was still talking wistfully about contending. “If I play a special weekend, shoot two rounds in the mid-60s, never know,” he said after Friday’s 75.
We probably know. So, deep down, does Tiger. He’s seen firsthand the field of talent around him – six of the world’s top 10 are tied for eighth or better (Reed is ranked 24th). Woods didn’t miss Reed’s fast-dropping score on the big boards around the course. Reed birdied three consecutive holes three separate times on Friday. For the tournament, which includes a 69 on Thursday, he’s birdied every par-5 and has 22 one-putts.
That 66 came on a windy, difficult day when just 16 golfers broke par and just seven broke 70.
“I looked at the board,” Tiger said. “Six‑under for the day under these conditions? That’s impressive. He’s playing great. We all know the kind of talent he is. Just a beautiful putter, just a great combo for this golf course.”
The thing for Reed has been putting his talent and his ambition together. Tiger always had that. Reed is learning it. He said the key to Friday was a birdie on the first hole, which was only possible because he listened to his wife who implored him to hit a 3-wood, not an impulsive driver there. Too often, Reed can get caught up in the moment or the crowd or his own mind. This time he settled and listened.
This is the game everyone always expected from him. Mostly, it’s what he thought he would do. This isn’t a guy who doesn’t just think he can win a major. He knows he can.
“If you don’t believe you can win them, then you probably shouldn’t be playing in them,” Reed said. “I believe that if I play the golf that I know how to play, that I can win majors.”
Playing that golf here just adds to the stakes. Everyone in the field here grew up watching and dreaming of Augusta National. He’s the only one who spent years in this town, spent those quiet fall afternoons knocking around it and trying old famous shots.
“It’s Augusta National,” Reed said. “I mean, this golf course is one of the best that we ever play. To be able to drive down Magnolia Lane and see just the perfect grass and really just the lush, green fairways, it’s basically golf’s heaven.”
On Friday night, he led the Masters. It’s something he always envisioned. It doesn’t mean it isn’t something special.
“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 having the lead in the tournament, it’s great,” Reed said. “But, you know, we’re only halfway. I’ve got a long way to go.”
He always considered himself a red-shirt-on-Sunday-afternoon kind of golfer. There’s a pink one scripted out instead. That’ll do for a guy who is finding himself and his game, and really only cares about the color of the jacket that might go over it.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Don’t be surprised if Conor McGregor never fights in the UFC again
• How NBA player made $1 million for two minutes of work
• Pitcher incredibly keeps cool as bald eagle lands on his shoulder
• Navy SEAL helped forge his son into NFL draft prospect