Sunday, April 13, 2014

DOUBLE BUBBA: Watson Cruises To His Second Masters Title In Three Years

By Teddy Allen

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sunday at the 2014 Masters marks the first time a Bubba in north Georgia has ever won a race by going just barely over the speed limit. 

It would have been nice if someone had done something to threaten Bubba Watson Sunday. Hiccupped in his backswing. “Accidentally” broken his pretty pink driver. They like rasslin’ around here, correct? Couldn’t somebody have body-slammed him?

Or even made a birdie?

Oh well. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much now that it wasn’t a photo finish like the most recent two Masters, won in Sunday playoffs at sunset. This one will be remembered more for who won it than for how. Especially in these parts where, for one week of the year, golf is about as important as air to breathe and biscuits and gravy to eat.

Watson, a fan favorite, a University of Georgia product and a son the of the South, broke a tie game just before Turn Four – on No. 9 in Sunday’s final round, to be precise – then put it on cruise control to win by three strokes his second green jacket in three years. In 2012 he won it in a playoff on No. 10, the second playoff hole. Sunday he needed only to tap in on the storied 18th to cap this one.

“A guy named Bubba born in Pensacola,” said Watson, who sort of creates his own fun and drama on the golf course by just being Bubba. “To win one green jacket is a dream come true. To win two is icing on the cake. I never thought I’d get this far…I’m just trying to keep my Tour card every year, and I’m lucky enough to have won two green jackets. I play the game not to be called a great player. I love it and want to grow the game.”

So again, after a no-pressure walk up 18 and a tap-in to win, he cried, as he did in 2012 and as your true Bubbas will do at such memorable moments. Bubba’s sincere tears are quickly becoming, like the Masters itself, a tradition like none other.

He hugged his caddie. Hugged his wife. And this time the popular champion had a toddling two-year-old son, a newborn two Aprils ago, to pick up and carry halfway around the 18th green while he slapped hands with patrons. 

The Bubbafication of America continues.

Tied for second were a pair of Masters rookies, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth of Dallas, the PGA’s Rookie of the Year in 2012, and the steady Jonas Blixt, a Swede who has finished in the top five in the two most recent majors. Spieth (71-70-70-72) and Blixt (70-71-71-71) each shot 283, 5-under and three strokes off Bubba’s pace (69-68-74-69), an 8-under, 280 total.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, whose 66 Saturday and ponytail were tournament highlights, finished 4-under and alone in fourth. Ricky Fowler (73 Sunday) and Matt Kuchar (74) tied for fifth at 2-under.

While Watson’s victory was well-earned – he actually trailed by three on No. 4, by two coming off No. 7 and shot a 3-under 69 – the truth is that no one in that group of runners-up put up much of a fight on this breezy, cloudy and comfortable afternoon at Augusta National.  Although he was for a moment dare-devilish  -- even with a 3-shot lead on 15, he chose to hit an iron between pines, over the pond and over the green’s backside – Watson won going away by simply going the speed limit.

“We didn’t put much pressure on him,” said Spieth, who birdied from the sand on No. 4 to take a 3-shot lead. “When he’s driving the ball well, he’s tough to beat. Being able to make pars coming in made it a lot easier on him.”

They say the Masters doesn’t really start until the back nine on Sunday, but this one turned late on the front nine. Spieth led by two walking off No. 7. Then in the next two holes, something called “golf” happened to him.

He 3-putted No.  8 and saw his approach come back down the hill on 9; he bogeyed both. Watson birdied both and walked to the second nine leading Spieth by two, Blixt by four and Kuchar and Fowler by five.
“He started out hot,” Watson said of Spieth. “For me to back it up and make birdies on top of him helped a lot. Gave me a little momentum.”

Spieth’s last attempt to pass Watson came on a notable par save from the sand on 10 as Watson bogeyed. Watson’s lead was a single stroke.

The pair traded pars on 11. But then came 12, the par-3 “Golden Bell,” the heart of Amen Corner and, according to some guy named Nicklaus who won six green jackets, “the toughest hole in tournament golf.” Spieth hit it in the water.

He made a tough putt to save bogey as Watson made par, but then Spieth drove it into the right-side pine straw and could not birdie the course’s easiest hole, the par-5 13th, as Watson did. Watson’s lead was back to three with five holes left.
“All I thought about,” Watson said, “was make pars and make pars.”

Sunday, Spieth played the final three par-3s in 1-over. Can’t get in the passing lane if you do that.
And for the week, Spieth played holes 8 through 14 in 3-over par; Bubba played them in 1-under. 

“Spieth was 20 when this round started, and when it ends he’ll be 40,” said Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins, like Spieth, a Dallas-Fort Worth native. Jenkins has the experience of 64 Masters; Spieth has the experience of 1, plus however many years a Sunday round in the final pairing equals. Whether or not Spieth will turn into some sort of Hogan or Nelson remains to be seen, but his talent and energy for the game is evident.

Blixt, another Masters rookie, fashioned a never-in-trouble 71, but 1-under on the back nine wouldn’t threaten the leader. The more veteran of the contenders – Jimenez, Fowler, Kuchar and Lee Westwood, who finished seven back, started the day too far back to shoot par-ish scores and still contend.

And so, after Watson’s daring and successful approach to 15, and after Spieth missed the same green right, the rookie was out of any serious chances. Blixt, playing in the group ahead, was steady but could score no better than par.

In other words, it was all over but the crying. And Bubba took care of that.