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Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy: 3 for the crowd at Masters

AUGUSTA GA - APRIL 10:  Patrick Reed United States watches his tee shot 12th hole during first round 2014

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 10: Patrick Reed of the United States watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the first round of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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Updated: April 10, 2014 10:43PM

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If you had the pleasure and terror of being 20 yards ahead of Patrick Reed on the eighth hole Thursday, then you know what a golf ball sounds like when it’s moving at Mach 1. It sounds a bit like an angry snake, but mostly it sounds like you made a smart decision by ducking behind a tree.

Reed, a cocky 23-year-old, had pulled his drive into the pine straw on the par-5 and was looking to A) get the ball on the fairway and B) hit the bejesus out of it. As choices go, A) was smart and B) was, well, there was no way he wasn’t going to try to rip it, never mind the trees. It’s not that he’s so young that he doesn’t know any better. It’s that he does know better and doesn’t care.

The ball went where Reed wanted it to go, past us jittery spectators, and it went far, which, given his full windup, seemed to be just as important to him. He would end up making a birdie on the hole. It was a Masters adventure.

For the gallery, it was a trip to the future. Reed, who has won three tournaments in the last eight months, played with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, last year’s PGA rookie of the year, and 24-year-old Rory McIlroy, winner of the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship.

Masters officials put great thought into who plays with whom on the first two days of the tournament, and the message that came with this grouping was simple: This is what’s to come in golf. Enjoy the time travel.

Hours earlier at Augusta National, honorary starters Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus had teed off to get the tournament rolling. The Masters does this better than anybody in any sport, this handshake across generations. It bows to yesterday and nods to tomorrow.

McIlroy got most of the attention from the crowd, which is what happens when you’re one of the best golfers in the world, when tennis standout Caroline Wozniacki, your fiancee, is in attendance and when your fiancee has dyed her long hair bright pink. She’s what a human flare gun would look like.

In spite of that star power, it says something that fans knew all about Reed and Spieth, who made their Masters’ debuts. They have made names for themselves, in capital letters.

McIlroy and Spieth each shot one-under 71. Reed’s 73 would have looked a lot different if he hadn’t bogeyed each of the last three holes. All three are within striking distance of first-round leader Bill Haas, who shot 68.

Nobody knows if they will be battling each other for years to come. Golf is a capricious game. Bobby Clampett was supposed to be the next Nicklaus. It turns out he wasn’t even the next Howard Twitty. But there was a ton of talent in that threesome Thursday, a ridiculous amount of potential and possibility.

The Masters champion easily could come out of this group, and I’m not sure it would be a huge upset if the winner ended up being Reed or Spieth. They are playing that well. When Reed won his first PGA tournament, the 2013 Wyndham Championship, he did it by beating Spieth in a playoff.

Spieth has made $4.7 million the last 15 months. You don’t hear many people complaining he should be getting a college education instead of playing a game for a living. Apparently, there are different standards for young golfers and young basketball players.

Age is a number. So is $8 million, the Masters’ purse this year.

“There’s a lot of good guys coming up and coming through,’’ McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m one of the older of that … well, not older ...’’

No, you can’t be old when you’re 24. It’s not allowed. But you can be gaining in wisdom.

On the par-4 17th, Spieth unwisely went for the hole on his approach shot and found himself dealing with a difficult ridge on his putt. Neuroscience confirms that the decision-making ability of a 20-year-old brain isn’t always the best. It explains why Spieth just couldn’t help himself.

McIlroy hit his shot 15 feet to the left of the pin and had an easier putt.

“He knows the golf course, and we’re still learning it,’’ Spieth said. “But if in the process of learning you can shoot under par, then I think I’m in good shape.’’

So is golf’s future. One group showed us that.

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