Tour Confidential: What Is Bubba Golf, Jordan Spieth’s Future, and a Masters Weekend Without Woods or Mickelson

April 14, 2014

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Bubba Watson shot 69 on Sunday to win his second Masters in three years. How does Watson compare to other repeat Masters champions and how many more green jackets do you think he will win?

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): This already makes two more Masters than I thought Bubba would snag. It seemed as if he was ready to retire with the last one as a career achievement award, so I was glad to see him revive his interest and his game. He's long and hits it high and works that cut — his game is perfect for this course if he can get his putter working. I'll be surprised if he doesn't win at least one more now. I'm convinced, Bubba.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I think he might end up with four of them. The combination of this big, broad-shouldered course and Bubba's titanic tee shots and imaginative shotmaking — it's a perfect match, really. Throw in some luck — his ricochet off a tree and into the fairway on 18 Saturday, his drive through the treetops on 13 Sunday — and the guy is unbeatable.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): The most relevant comparison to another multiple Masters winner is with Seve Ballesteros. Like Seve, Bubba can manufacture shots that don't even occur to others, and he's an erratic character who is often his own worst enemy. When he drives it straight and manages his emotions, he will contend here. But let’s not get carried away and assume he always has it together at Augusta. He's won twice, but in four other appearances his best is T20. 

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): I don't respect Bubba and his game the way I do recent past multiple champions such as Woods, Mickelson and Faldo, but that's my problem. If I'm being objective, I have to acknowledge his incredible wedge that sealed his playoff win in 2012 and tip my hat to his inside straight on Friday of this year, birdies on 12-16 that gave him control of the tournament. And frankly, he dominated the second nine today. He's fun to watch play golf and is a totally deserving champion. He'll win one to two more green jackets for sure.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): Honey, he shrunk the course, just as Nicklaus and Woods did before him. Next up, the Bubba-proofing of Augusta National, with thick forests of loblollies added to the left side of every fairway. I see him winning one or two more. Then again, I saw Tiger winning 10 more, and that ain't gonna happen.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): When you consider that Tiger and Phil are the only players under 45 with multiple Masters titles, I would say Bubba is in pretty elite company. He will be a contender at Augusta for the next decade or so because of his length off the tee and the trajectory of his approach shots. All he has to do is keep his head on straight. That said, I believe he learned a lot on how to handle things off the course from the win in 2012, so put him down for another green jacket, maybe two.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Bubba's current career arc stacks up pretty well with Jose Maria Olazabal, who won a couple of Masters for his only major titles. That's not bad company — JMO is a Hall of Famer — and it's one way to illustrate just how far Watson boosted his stock with this second jacket. His powerful high cut shot is absolutely perfect for Augusta, and there isn't any land left for members to push the tees farther back to "Bubba-proof" it. I'll say he bags at least one more, and maybe even two.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Well, he's an amazing golf talent, in the Seve tradition — in the European tradition, really. Play the course, shape the shot, leave the mechanics on the range. No reason he can't win another. And if he wins a third, we'll have to consider the possibility of a fourth.

2. How do you define the term “Bubba Golf”?

MORFIT: I was out on 13 when his skyscraping tee shot was redirected down the fairway by some leafy greens high above Rae's Creek. And I was on 15 when he sized up his second from 181 yards, behind the tree, over the pond. He never seemed to seriously consider chipping out, opting for a 6-iron that threaded the gap like a stunt pilot. That's Bubba golf.

VAN SICKLE: Bubba golf is combining smashmouth golf with shotmaking and what passes for Southern charm. He doesn't get credit for his course management because he's a basher, and while maybe he's not the next Ben Hogan in the strategy department, Bubba thinks his way around a course pretty darned well.

GODICH: "Bubba golf" is creativity and imagination at its finest.

SENS: If you mean Bill "Bubba" Clinton, it's yell fore, take six and write down five. If you mean Bubba Watson, it's aim toward right-field foul pole, twitch like you're going to swing and miss, then hit one out of the park.

BAMBERGER: Bubba golf is loose, unschooled, self-absorbed, fun to watch.

RITTER: Button your shirt all the way to the collar, carry a pink driver and bust it 330 yards with a homemade swing that's never seen a lesson.

PASSOV: "Bubba golf" is free-wheeling, nothing else resembling it, anything can happen — and usually does — golf. His wedge at the 2012 Masters, the 4-iron rocket at Doral's 72nd hole a couple of years ago, his boomerang driver off the deck approach to the 18th at Kapalua — it's magical. It's also rabbit ears, blame his caddie, meltdowns from nowhere stuff, too. Regardless, Bubba golf is ALWAYS entertaining.

LYNCH: Smash it a mile, draw up an imaginative approach shot, miss the putt and berate the caddie.

3. Jordan Spieth made a serious bid to become the youngest-ever Masters champ and the first first-timer to win at Augusta since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 before falling to Watson in the final. What makes Spieth a special player and what do you think he learns from this week?

VAN SICKLE: Spieth now knows he can win a Masters, definitively, or any other major. That's knows, not thinks. He'll realize he let his emotions get in the way on the final nine when he studies the replay, which he will. He will be America's next great player.

LYNCH: Having the 54-hole lead and almost winning the Masters is invaluable experience to acquire at age 20, and Spieth seems well equipped to contend on any major stage going forward. But his emotional reactions to poor shots laid bare the tedious cliche repeated ad nauseam by the TV announcers that he has an old head on young shoulders. His youth and inexperience was evident. It's understandable. When he surmounts that, he might have the brightest future in the game.

BAMBERGER: Spieth is as hungry as any young player since Tiger Woods. He's trying to prove it all in every swing he takes. He'll learn this week that the march to 280 is a marathon, not a 5K.

GODICH: He's fearless. He didn't lose that tournament. Bubba won it. It would have been easy for Spieth to fold his tent after the four-shot swing at 8 and 9, but he kept grinding. And on a day when he didn't have his A-game, he shot 72 while playing in the last group on Sunday at Augusta National. He drives down Magnolia Lane with a ton of confidence. Now he needs to build on the momentum and validate the week with a second career victory.

RITTER: When I watch Spieth play golf or listen to him in the interview room, I forget that he's only 20, so I'll say it's his maturity. He has the talent and attitude to thrive on Tour, and he'll learn a lot from Sunday's tough stretch of holes around the turn that cost him this tournament. He'll get his first major soon — maybe as soon as Pinehurst.

PASSOV: A combination of execution and attitude makes Spieth special. He has unusual maturity, yet you can tell from the club-slam at 10, the eye rolls, the one-handed and no-handed finishes, that he's a fiery, passionate competitor. He'll revisit that suspect decision to aim at the flag at 12, but he got up and down for bogey, so it didn't crush him. He takes away that he finished second at the Masters, which means he can compete with anyone on any stage in golf.

MORFIT: He's really mature for 20, and he's almost nerveless, the key word being "almost." I think he knew he was in the lead — he said he wasn't looking at leaderboards until late in the back nine — and got a little spooked. He blew his second shot way right on 8, which tells you he was doing everything he could not to wind up in the trees left of that hole (jail). But the aggressive play is to keep your foot on the gas and hook it in there. And we all saw what happened after that. He'll learn everything from this, because Spieth is a fast, fast learner. His golf IQ is Tiger-esque. I expect him to be in the mix again at Pinehurst.     

4. Which performance was the most disappointing: Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson or someone else?

LYNCH: Scott. He made a statement on Thursday but then faded away with barely a whimper.

VAN SICKLE: Mickelson was disappointing because he botched so many short-game shots. That's supposed to be his specialty. It is his specialty. That was mind-boggling. And that swish you heard was Phil moving on to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

GODICH: Dustin Johnson. He's turning 30 in June. He's got too much talent to not win a major, and if we're still asking this question in a couple of years, DJ is going to start drawing comparisons to Lee Westwood.

PASSOV: Dustin has a lousy Masters record, so this week wasn't a surprise — I just can't figure out why he stinks at Augusta. I expected more from Mickelson, simply on faith, since he wasn't playing well coming in. Yet, he only missed the cut by one, and as Rory showed, you can crash the top 10 even making the cut right on the number. Phil could have easily done the same if he had been given the chance. Rory didn't click early, making his role as Vegas favorite sort of a joke, yet at the end, how can you fault a guy for a top-10 finish in a major? Adam Scott disappointed me most. He got off to a fast start, then inexplicably stalled. To me, he's the man right now, and his repeated front-nine failures at Augusta this week were head-scratching.   

SENS: Not Dustin Johnson, because did you really expect him to win this thing? And not Adam Scott, because how many players defend at Augusta? Going strictly by the numbers, McIlroy gets the nod because he was favored to win. On a more personal level, though, the biggest downer was Westwood, because I bet a friend that the Englishman would finally get off the schneid. I'm like a pitiful partner in a bad relationship. I keep telling myself that this time around, it's going to be different, that the patterns can't possibly continue. Then Westwood tees it up on Sunday in contention in a major. . .and. . . sniff. . .I think I need to see a shrink.

MORFIT: I've got to go with McIlroy. I was out there watching him play Amen Corner on Sunday, and he was putting for birdie on 12 when the volunteers got the word to put his name up on the scoreboards around the course. He missed the putt, but he was 3 under on the day and had gotten back to even for the tournament. I was thinking about what might happen if he put up a 30 or so on the back nine, but after hitting a prodigious drive on the par-5 13th hole, he hit his wedge or 9-iron into the creek short of the green. The wind was gusting a little, but it was a terrible shot. He said himself that he was useless on the par-5s, and he did not putt well at all. Losing to the non-competing marker Saturday was just salt in the wound. 

RITTER: Phil was by far the biggest bust of the week. Sure, he's battled injuries this year and hasn't shown much, but you had to think Augusta would bring out his best because it almost always does. This year he has more WDs (two) than top 10s (zero). I don't want to say this is the beginning of the end because Phil did just win the British Open, but after a career's worth the success at Augusta (three wins, eight top 3s, 14 top 10s) his last two results are T54, MC. He can win another jacket, but health is going to be key.

BAMBERGER: I am going to save my feelings of disappointment for others who need it more than that foursome. Ed Sneed comes to mind.

5. Six senior players made the cut at the Masters, along with 48-year-old Jose Maria Olazabal. Does this end the argument that the power brokers made Augusta National too long and too tough after the most recent design changes?

PASSOV: Well, yes. I can see that when the course is wet, the old guys will struggle with the length. Firm and fast in the sunshine this year, everybody was in the game. This was a very strange Masters, when names like Lyle and Mize make the cut — geezers who aren't even competitive on the Champions Tour — yet Mickelson, Garcia, Donald and a slew of others are sent packing on Friday. I thought it was great — like Masters of the pre-lengthening era — when guile and experience could get a Charles Coody or Gay Brewer through, long past their competitive primes.

BAMBERGER: It doesn't end the argument at all, because by making the course so long and, in places, so tight, it robbed the fun factor. That's the problem — the course just isn't as fun.

VAN SICKLE: The course played firm and fast this week despite Monday's downpour. That allowed the shorter hitters, including the seniors, to show their skills. The firmer the greens, the more the local knowledge and shotmaking skills of the seniors gives them an edge. Make the course long, wet and soft and I'm not betting on Larry Mize.

SENS: Not to mention 51-year-old Jeff Knox, who played as a marker with Rory on Saturday and shot 71. Experience will always play a huge role at Augusta. But given how many first-timers were in contention this week, shouldn't the question be, Does this end the argument that experience is less important than young nerves and outrageous length?

GODICH: The strong play by the senior citizens shows how significant experience is at the Masters. It also speaks to what a special place Augusta National is. Age doesn't matter; these guys get inspired when they set foot on the grounds.

MORFIT: Augusta is a second-shot course. It just so happens that Bubba's second shots are always shorter than anyone else's. I'm pretty impressed with Miguel Angel Jimenez — fourth place! Age 50! I ran into European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley out there, and you know he was impressed, too.

RITTER: We had a great mix of youth and experience on Sunday's leaderboard, and it seems like it's been that way for a while. What more do you want? I've been lucky enough to witness five Masters and I like the setup. I realize the course changes are an easy target for those who saw it (or played it) in different eras, but times change, players and equipment evolve, and Augusta National felt they had to do it, so we should accept it and move on. And by the way, if they make a bunch of changes to the course I love next year, I will be infuriated.

LYNCH: More seniors made the cut because more seniors play here, all of them with significant experience on the course. But ask the seniors who were humbled at the bottom of the leaderboard on Friday night if they think it is bogus to suggest that the course has been made too tough. 

6. Neither Tiger Woods nor Phil Mickelson played the weekend at the Masters for the first time since 1994. Did you miss them?

VAN SICKLE: Real golf fans didn't miss them. Casual golf fans — and those who are Phil fans or Tiger fans but not really golf fans — missed them. But look at all the heroics that began right away on Thursday. This Masters was too full of action to care who wasn't playing, although a slightly more dramatic last six holes would've made it a better TV show. Even better, we've identified one of the two players American golf needs to replace Phil and Tiger — Jordan Spieth. Maybe Rickie Fowler's showing means he might be the other half.

MORFIT: Terribly. Tiger's absence was like a phantom limb. And then for Phil to miss the cut — geez. Oh, well. There's always next year.

LYNCH: The vibe was very different all week. The electricity just wasn't there. This Masters provided a partial glimpse of a world to come when neither Tiger nor Phil are factors, and it wasn't pretty.

GODICH: I watch the Masters to witness great golf, creative shotmaking, wizardry on and around the greens and the occasional train wreck. We get that every year, even when Tiger and Phil aren't playing. Though the traditional back-nine Sunday duel never really materialized, I'd say the Masters delivered another fabulous show.  

SENS: Anyone who says this Masters was better without Woods and Mickelson on the weekend should see my shrink, the one I've been seeing to help me overcome my Lee Westwood problem.

PASSOV: Had Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy challenged Bubba down the stretch — and throw my favorite, Miguel Angel Jimenez, into the mix — and I would have missed them a little. When the final nine holes turned into a snooze-fest, I missed Tiger and Phil a lot.

RITTER: I missed Tiger right up until Thursday morning's tee times and I missed Phil right up until Saturday afternoon's tee times. But judging by the sagging TV ratings, many people felt differently.

BAMBERGER: I did, much more than I could have guessed. I missed Tiger's smoldering intensity. Phil was different, he played hard and missed a cut. It happens. But I was surprised to find I missed T. Woods.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.