AUGUSTA, Ga. -- One man made history, but the other, playing alongside the first, refused to resign himself to spectator status and wound up making history of his own.
After a day of wild momentum swings, Bubba Watson was the last man standing to win the 76th Masters, rendering an artful par from the trees on the second hole of a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen at Augusta National on Sunday.
“I’ve never had a dream go this far, so I can’t really say it’s a dream come true,” said Watson, who never made worse than bogey all week and closed with six birdies and two bogeys Sunday.
It was the fourth career victory and first major title for Watson, 33, who at one point trailed his playing partner by five strokes. Oosthuizen holed his 253-yard second shot, struck with a 4-iron, for the first ever double-eagle on the par-5 second hole, seizing control of the tournament, but Watson never backed down and birdied holes 13-16 to force the playoff. That gave him a chance to author his own miracle, eclipsing the first.
Both players made par on the first hole of sudden death, the 18th, before the long-hitting, left-handed Watson hooked his drive deep into the trees on the right side of the second playoff hole, the 10th. Again, he refused to give up.
“The first time I ever worked with my caddie, in Boston, six years ago, I told him, ‘If I have a swing, I’ve got a shot,’” Watson said.
His caddie, Ted Scott, reminded Watson of the comment as they ventured into the trees. Watson looked up and immediately noticed a gap through the leaves, his path to the green jacket. He hit a sweeping hook from the pine straw and watched as his ball spun to within 10 feet of the pin. Oosthuizen, who had come up short of the green in two, chipped well past the pin and missed his par, leaving Watson to two-putt for the win. He broke down in tears as he hugged Scott; his mother, Molly; and several friends.
“We had 135 [yards to the] front, is the only number I was looking at,” Watson said. “I think we had like 164 [to the] hole, give or take, in that area, maybe a little less. And I hit my 52-degree, my gap wedge, hooked it about 40 yards, hit it about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree, and then it started rising -- pretty easy.”
With that quote, the room full of reporters broke into laughter, for if Watson was ever going to win a major, this was surely the way he’d do it, by playing what he calls “Bubba golf.” Watson, from Bagdad, Fla, has a homemade swing, no coach and says he doesn’t much care for practice. The owner of the original General Lee, the orange “Dukes of Hazzard” Dodge Charger he bought for $110,000 in January, Watson envisions and tries shots others don’t. He can curve his ball through the air as if it were taking a banked turn on a racetrack.
“I have no idea where he was,” said Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, of Watson’s recovery shot. “Where I stood from, when the ball came out, it looked like a curveball going to the right. I knew he had to hit a big hook, but an unbelievable shot.”
Oosthuizen was trying to become the second straight player from South Africa to slip on the green jacket. Charl Schwartzel won last year.
Sunday marked the first sudden-death playoff at the Masters since 2009.
This was supposed to be the day that Phil Mickelson celebrated his fourth Masters victory, but he sabotaged his chances with a shocking triple-bogey 6 on the fourth hole, his second triple-bogey of the tournament. He scratched out three birdies after that, but it wasn't enough, and his 72 left him in a four-way tie for third with playing partner Peter Hanson (73), Lee Westwood (68) and Matt Kuchar (69).
This was golf as NASCAR. Just when you thought you'd identified the man to beat, something crazy happened and everything changed.
Oosthuizen's double-eagle was just the fourth "albatross" in Masters history, and it quickly changed the complexion of the tournament. With 54-hole leader Hanson making bogey on the first hole, Oosthuizen was now ahead by two.
“That was my first double-eagle ever,” said Oosthuizen, who nonetheless flipped the ball into the gallery. (The fan who got it gave it to the club.) “So it was tough; it was tough the next five holes to just get my head around it and just play the course.”
There were early signs that this would be a strange day. Patrick Cantlay eagled the par-4 seventh hole, the beginning of an extraordinary, roller-coaster round. He made a quadruple-bogey 9 on 13, a double-bogey 6 on 14, eagled 15 and birdied 16 and 17 for an even-par 72 to finish seven over for low-amateur honors.
Bo Van Pelt eagled the 13th hole and aced the 16th on the way to a 64, the low round of the week. Adam Scott aced 16 as well, two hours later, and shot 66.
Nothing was more bizarre, however, than Mickelson’s making triple-bogey on the fourth hole. His tee shot missed left, clanged off the grandstand railing and ricocheted into the bushes. The shot recalled Jean Van de Velde’s misadventure in losing the 1999 British Open, which also involved a shot off a grandstand railing.
After being allowed to touch his ball in order to identify it, Mickelson tried twice to extricate it right-handed, turning his club toe-down. His second effort nearly hit his left leg, and he was lying three on hard-packed dirt. From there, he dumped his fourth shot short, into the sand. His bunker shot nearly went in, and he tapped in for his 6 -- the antipode to Oosthuizen’s albatross.
"I just couldn’t quite get it going," Mickelson said.
Tiger Woods, who came into the tournament on the heels of his first victory in 28 months, failed to break par for the fourth day in a row, signing for a 74 and a five-over total -- his worst Masters finish in 16 starts as a professional.
“I didn’t hit the ball very good this week,” Woods said, “and what’s frustrating is I know what to do, and I just don’t do it. I get out there, and I just don’t trust it at all. I fall back into the same old patterns again, and I just need to do more reps.”
Rory McIlroy, who along with Woods and Mickelson was a strong pre-tournament favorite, did no better, firing a final-round 76 to tie Woods at five over.
“Yeah, it was a disappointing weekend, just one of those things,” said McIlroy, who was just a shot off the lead through 36 holes but never got back on track after stumbling through a front-nine 42 Saturday.
While fans and members of the media were getting caught up in the dream of a Woods-McIlroy showdown in the run-up to this Masters, Watson was tending to more important business. He and his wife, Angie, adopted a baby boy, Caleb, in South Florida on March 26. Caleb is not yet cleared to leave the state -- the Watsons live in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- and the family has leased a home in Orlando’s Isleworth community.
“I can’t wait to get back,” Watson said.
He had spent Sunday apart from his wife and new son, but the man with the pink driver would be coming home with a green jacket and a new kind of Easter story, the tale of a free spirit who never had a lesson, but who could imagine and make miracles in the air.