Bubba Watson runs away with his second Masters title in three years
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They lined the fairways five and six deep to see him, the Bagdad bomber with the pink driver and the overalls-clad club cover in his own likeness. Even the trees, it seemed, wanted to watch free-swinging lefty Bubba Watson do what he does like no one else when he’s on: paint the skies with inhumanly great golf shots.
Watson birdied the 8th and 9th holes to separate himself from playing partner Jordan Spieth, birdied the par-5 13th hole after his drive ruffled the leaves of a tree and landed in the fairway, and signed for a final-round 69 to win his second Masters in three years.
“A small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets,” Watson said after he donned the iconic coat in Butler Cabin with club chairman Billy Payne, CBS’s Jim Nantz, 2013 champion Adam Scott, and low amateur Oliver Goss. “It’s pretty wild.”
Spieth, who birdied four of the first seven holes to briefly take a two-shot lead, shot 72 to finish second, three back, with Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71) at 5 under par. Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 50-year-old ponytailed Spaniard, shot 71 to finish fourth alone at four under.
This Masters was another reminder that when Watson is on, no one can match his prodigious length off the tee -- long-haul hooks and slices and moonshots that help make him the most audacious and imaginative shotmaker in the game. He felt so good with the driver he used it at every opportunity, even at the short, par-4 3rd hole.
And while others hoped to hold the crusty greens with long second shots on the par-5s, Watson landed his as if they’d been dropped from a crane. He was so good, tee to green, that when his putter turned on him Saturday he still salvaged a 74 to keep a share of the lead.
“I think that gives Bubba a little bit of an advantage, how high he hits it and how soft he can get the ball to come down,” one of his fellow competitors said this week. That the competitor was Rory McIlroy, who doesn’t exactly bunt the ball around the course, spoke volumes.
Sunday looked as if it might produce a frenzied finish, with 11 men within four shots of co-leaders Spieth and Watson, but the shootout that many expected simply never materialized, putting the lie to the old adage that the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.
Rickie Fowler, who got within a shot of the leaders with a birdie on the first hole, bogeyed the par-5 2nd and went dormant after that. He shot 73 to tie for fifth at two under, six back -- his best finish in a major.
Matt Kuchar birdied the 2nd and 3rd holes to get to six under and a piece of the lead with Spieth, but was never the same after he four-putted the 4th hole for double bogey. He shot 74 to also tie for fifth.
Blixt, 29, made 15 pars, two birdies and a bogey, hanging around but never seriously threatening for the green jacket.
This was a strange Masters from start to finish. Tiger Woods missed the tournament altogether after undergoing back surgery. Phil Mickelson missed the cut. McIlroy lost to his non-competing marker, a club member named Jeff Knox, on Saturday, but came back to shoot a final-round 69 and finish even par, tied for eighth place.
“I played the par-5s in even par this week,” said McIlroy, who had to rally just to make the cut Friday. “Which -- you just can’t do out here.”
“He made nothing all week,” said his father Gerry, watching on 13.
McIlroy wasn’t the only one.
With no one outside the final twosome making a charge, this was a two-man race early. Watson birdied both front-nine par-3s, both times after it was clear Spieth was going to make a 2. The kid holed out from the front greenside bunker at the par-3 4th, then stuck his tee shot to within two feet at the par-3 6th. He was, it seemed, unflappable.
“He ain’t got no bills, ain’t got no kids,” Boo Weekley said as he watched the action Sunday. Weekley had missed the cut, but he was sipping a beer and following Steven Bowdich, with whom Boo shares a swing coach. “When you’re that age,” Weekley added. “It’s all about the golf.”
Alas, it turned out Spieth was indeed flappable, because what came next was what both players would call the turning point of this Masters. Spieth’s bogeys on eight and nine each featured a missed par putt of roughly five feet. Combined with Watson’s birdies, they made up a four-shot swing that put Spieth in chase mode for the rest of the day. He took four to get down from just off the eighth green, and spun a 9-iron off the front of the ninth green and down the hill -- one of the same mistakes Greg Norman made in losing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo.
Spieth’s final hiccup came when he hit a 9-iron again on 12. He aimed at the TV tower, hit the water, and fought to make a bogey.
The only person who was going to potentially beat Watson on this day was Watson, but unlike, say, your typical U.S. Open layout, Augusta National seems to smile down on his freewheeling style. Watson reared back and blistered a crowd-pleasing drive on 13 -- crowd-pleasing because after it reentered the earth’s atmosphere it fell harmlessly through a canopy of trees by Rae’s Creek and dropped in the fairway.
“I knew when it took off it was cutting a little too much,” Watson said. “I knew I hit it really hard. Obviously, when you get a roar on your tee shot, you know it's pretty good, and I could start breathing again once I hear them clapping and roaring [well down the fairway].”
Watson had left himself only a 56-degree sand wedge to the green.
“His drive on 13 I’ll never forget,” Spieth said. “I thought it was out of bounds, 70 yards left.” Told that Watson’s ball had been diverted by a tree, Spieth said, “I didn’t know that. It’s his day, I guess.”
The only remaining drama came on 15, when Watson again got out of position off the tee, again missing left. He seemed to be blocked out by a tree, with 181 yards and a pond between him and the green. Surely he would chip out. He did not chip out -- that’s not Bubba Golf. He shot the gap with a six-iron, his ball soaring over the water hazard and pelting the green before rolling over it. The display of bravado wowed those closest to the ball, patrons just outside the ropes who saw exactly what a potential round-wrecker Watson had just hit through and over.
“I did NOT know he was going to do that,” one man said, laughing.
Watson made five straight pars to end the round, and broke down in tears in the embrace of his caddie, Ted Scott, and his wife, Angie. It was 2012 all over again, except Angie was here instead of Bubba’s mom, Molly. So was Caleb, the little boy Bubba and Angie had just adopted two years ago. He toddled out onto the back of the 18th green, and Watson scooped him up and began high-fiving the fans encircling the green.
“It's a dream to be on the PGA Tour,” Watson said. “It's a dream to win, and winning any tournament is a big deal. Winning the green jacket is a little bit bigger deal. So, yeah, I'm going to cry, because why me? Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida? Why is he winning?”
The answers hooked and soared and dove and left green vapor trails all around the National. There were 280 of them -- 8 under par. Watson didn’t ask it, but the better question was how many he’ll win.