McIlroy had 30 putts, seven more than on Saturday, and finished the final round with a two-over 74. He hit only eight greens in regulation on his way to a tie for fifth. He was the only player in the top 16 who did not break par Sunday.
Reed had spent a long morning listening to TV commentators discount his chances to close out his first major, and he found motivation in their pessimism.
He said the doubters had “fueled his fire a little bit,” as did the gallery, which threw its cheers firmly behind McIlroy.
The more he was overlooked, Reed said, the less pressure he felt.
“It just kind of played into my hand,” Reed said, adding, “The more kind of chatter you have in your ear about expectations and that kind of thing, the harder it is to play golf.”
Reed had struggled at Augusta National in his previous visits. In four prior appearances here, he missed the cut twice, never broke 70 and always finished outside the top 20. But this week, he put every part of his game together.
Credit Brian Snyder/Reuters
Reed, 27, and McIlroy, 28, began the final round eyeing history as well as each other; Reed had a chance to become the first player in the event to post four sub-70 rounds. With a victory, McIlroy would have become the sixth man, and first European, to complete a career grand slam.
When the day was over, McIlroy knew he had never settled into a rhythm.
“It’s hard to take any positives from it right now,” McIlroy said, adding: “I’ll sit down and reflect over the next few days and see what I could have potentially done better, whether it be a mind-set or, I don’t know. I just didn’t have it today.”
In 2015, Spieth was a wire-to-wire winner at the Masters. On Sunday, he was trying to pull off the largest comeback in the history of the event. The distinction still belongs to Jack Burke Jr., who made up an eight-stroke deficit to defeat the amateur Ken Venturi by one shot in the 1956 Masters.
Playing four groups ahead of Reed, Spieth, the first-round leader, showed his hand with a five-under 31 on the front nine. If anyone can appreciate how tenuous a lead is at Augusta National, it is Spieth, who led by five heading into the final nine in 2016.
That round unraveled when Spieth hit two balls into the water on the par-3 12th and ended up with a quadruple-bogey 7. That opened the door for the eventual winner, Danny Willett of England, who had trailed by three at the day’s start.
Spieth, who also put the ball into the water on No. 12 in last year’s final round, landed Sunday’s tee shot on the fringe of the green, then raised his arms in triumph and high-fived his caddie, Michael Greller.
Spieth then sank the putt to move to 11 under, three strokes behind Reed. With a tap-in birdie at the par-5 13th, he whittled another stroke off Reed’s lead. At that point, Spieth was seven under for his round. He made another birdie, at the par-3 16th, but bogeyed the 18th after his drive hit a limb.
Spieth said he never looked at a scoreboard. Reed did, and was fully aware of Spieth’s charge. “It was kind of nerve-racking,” Reed said. “I’m glad he ran out of holes.”
The afternoon starters typically spend the morning watching the early coverage of the round to gauge how the course is playing. What they saw had to make their eyes grow wide: Five of the first seven finishers, including the three-time champion Phil Mickelson (67), broke par.
Tony Finau, who dislocated his ankle on Wednesday, made six consecutive birdies, beginning at No. 12, in his round of 66. Tiger Woods, playing his first major since 2015 after multiple back operations, had his first round under par for the tournament, shooting a 69 to finish at one over for the week.
Paul Casey was nine under for the day through 15 holes before bogeying the last two holes for a 65. Charley Hoffman set off a ground-shaking roar with an ace on the par-3 16th.
But as the afternoon wore on, most of the field fell away. Fowler took his time before making a run. That left Spieth and Reed to duke it out, though they were separated by so many holes it was as if they were shadow boxing.