Bubba Watson makes Augusta look all too easy as he seizes control of the Masters

Bubba Watson
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Bubba Watson celebrates his birdie putt on No. 14 at Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The Bubba Show has returned to the Masters, and so far this latest edition features all of the artistry and none of the jitters. When Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. won his green jacket two years ago in a playoff, it was a high-wire act that will forever be defined by a death-defying recovery from the trees .

This time around, Watson is making it look all too easy.

On a treacherous track that has produced a number of thrills and spills, he has made a mere two bogeys across 36 holes, shooting a second round 68 to back up a 69 and forge a three-stroke lead.

On Friday, this preeminent shotmaker unleashed his full arsenal to tame an Augusta National that is playing firm and fiery in hot, windy conditions. Watson seized control with a run of five straight back-nine birdies, during which he…

…Rifled a hard draw with a 9-iron through the swirling breezes to two feet on the terrifying 12th…

…Smashed a sweeping cut around the corner -- and off a pine tree -- on the par-5 13th hole, allowing him to reach the green with a 7-iron for an easy two-putt bird…

…Coaxed in a long, delicate putt on the frightening 14th green that required touch, imagination and juevos…

…Split the tight 15th fairway with an effortless swing, leading to another two-putt birdie…

…Nearly jarred his tee shot on the par-3 16th, a big, high cut that landed as soft as butterfly with sore feet…

RELATED LINK: The Best Photos From Augusta National

And yet, Watson’s most impressive shot of the back nine didn’t come during this tournament-defining streak, it came on the 17th tee, when he unleashed a screaming fade that never got more than 15 feet off the ground, staying below the zephyrs and rolling out some 320 yards. Watson’s pint-sized playing partner, Luke Donald, could only watch in awe at this display of Bubba Golf. “He’s hardly missed a shot the last couple of days,” said Donald, the former world number one who was beaten by 12 strokes. “He’s dominating the course with his length and just leaving it in the right spots. When he has wedge and sand wedge, he can go fire at some pins. He’s been able to stop it.” If you could have seen the thought bubble above poor Donald’s head, it would have said Unlike the rest of us schmucks.

John Senden, the ballstriker extraordinaire from Australia, matched Watson’s 68 to claim second place, three strokes in arrears. Another shot further back is defending champion Adam Scott, who salvaged his Masters by following a front-nine 39 with a back-nine 33. Joining Scott at three under par is our Hamlet in spikes, Thomas Bjorn, the brooding prince of Danish golf, as well as Jonas Blixt, who short-gamed his way to a 71, and Masters rookie Jordan Spieth, who made an eagle on the 15th hole and a birdie at the last to generate a ton of momentum heading into the weekend. Tied for 7th at -2 is the strong trio of Fred Couples, Jim Furyk and Jimmy Walker. Boom Boom, the ’92 Masters champ, knows that things can get squirrely on the weekend at Augusta, but he acknowledged that the pursuers don't exactly control their own destiny. “None of us can stop Bubba,” Couples said. “If he goes out and does what he did yesterday and today he’s the guy to beat.” Obviously.

With Augusta National turning into a racetrack there were some spectacular crackups on Friday. Marc Leishman birdied the first three holes to seize the lead…then played the next 15 holes in 11 over par to miss the cut. Asked to assess his performance, he offered one word: “Crap.” Phil Mickelson tripled the 12th hole (without hitting it in the water!) as part of his first missed cut at Augusta since 1997. “I didn’t play great, I didn’t play bad,” Mickelson said. “It’s tough to overcome those big numbers.” Boo Weekley hung up a sporty 83. Keegan Bradley made seven bogies and a double en route to a 78 and a missed cut. And on and on it went; at the end of a trying day only 14 players were under par.

With Mickelson and an injured Tiger Woods not around on the weekend, and a leaderboard full of lurkers -- take a bow, Kevin Streelman, Kevin Stadler, and Jamie Donaldson -- it will be up to Watson to provide the star power. Despite his steady play so far, he’s an artist, not a grinder. At times Watson can appear so tortured it would not be a surprise if he cut off his own ear with a 1-iron. Self-diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, he has radiated a rare peacefulness the last two days. What’s his secret? “Just keep my head down, not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff,” Watson said. “Trying to stay level, not too energized, not to excited.”

He admits now he was overwhelmed with the hoopla that came with his first Masters win: “Never been drunk before, but [had] a hangover from the green jacket…If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two.” This season Watson has rededicated himself to practicing with more of a purpose and a shift to a new putter has freed him up on the greens. He earned his first victory in nearly two years at Riviera and finished tied for second at Phoenix and Doral. So this strong play at Augusta is not a surprise, but it is a revelation. Watson is now halfway home to cementing his legacy. Whatever happens in the next two days, he’s sure to put on a show.

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