ORLANDO, Fla. — A familiar name was lurking near the top of the leaderboard entering the weekend in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Patrick Reed, to some “Captain America’’ and to others a man they love to hate and hate to love, but to almost all, the sport’s most polarizing player.
Reed entered Saturday’s third round at Bay Hill in position to win another golf tournament — just two weeks removed from winning the WGC-Mexico Championship — standing at 4-under, trailing the leaders by just three shots.
Then Reed fell victim to what most of the rest of the field did Saturday: The deceptively treacherous conditions that took over Bay Hill, produced bloated scores from some of the world’s best players and threatened to make grown men cry.
Reed finished with a shocking 8-over 80 and tumbled out of contention, just one day after waxing poetic to The Post about how winning makes him hungrier to win again — unlike a lot of other players who become complacent after victories.
“I’ve always loved to have the ball in my court,’’ Reed said before Saturday’s round. “[Winning] makes me even more hungry to get back to that kind of situation where you have a chance to win a golf tournament late Sunday.
“A lot of guys win and it’s almost like … they come up for a breather and they kind of relax, think like, ‘Wow, I’ve done it.’ I’ve almost used winning as like a steppingstone. For me, it makes me work harder to try to get back to that point so I can get that feeling again.’’
Reed is too many strokes back to have those feelings back on Sunday for the final round. He’ll have to wait until next week at the Players Championship, or the World Match Play or the Masters, which he won a couple years ago.
Reed, however, is never too far away from controversy, something that follows him the way fascinated fans flock to Tiger Woods.
The dubious December incident in the Bahamas, where he was caught on camera improving his lie in the sand and the subsequent flimsy and flippant way in which he handled that publicly, has seemingly forever stained Reed the way Matt Kuchar short-arming and deep-pocketing that caddie in Mexico will forever be a part of his story.
Despite Reed insisting “the fans have been great” in the wake of his turbulent year with the cheating allegations, a tournament doesn’t go by now without Reed being heckled.
On Saturday during his front nine, a spectator yelled, “I’ve got a rulebook in my back pocket, Patrick,’’ from outside the ropes while Reed walked down a fairway. The fan was removed by security.
Of course, there was the incident at the Presidents Cup in Australia, where Reed’s caddie and brother-in-law physically assaulted a fan who had been heckling Reed and was suspended by the PGA Tour for the final day of competition.
Through it all, Reed continues to amble about like Mr. Magoo, the old cartoon character who was utterly oblivious to the goings on around him.
“You’re always going to have that one, two or three people that say something,’’ Reed said. “As a whole, the fans have been very gracious and very respectful. They just want to see good golf.’’
Reed, more often than not, has provided the good golf.
Whether he’s done that while playing above the rules is another story.
Asked to describe the turbulent past year, Reed said, “I’m just playing golf. When I get inside the ropes, I’ve got a job to do and that’s to go out and play.’’
Oblivious, like Mr. Magoo. Whether it’s a defense mechanism or all he knows, this is a place Reed prefers to reside.