Watson masterful in claiming second green jacket

By Rex HoggardApril 14, 2014, 1:37 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It may be time for Bubba-proofing.

It was, after all, Tiger Woods’ back-to-back victories in 2001 and ’02 at Augusta National that prompted the club to initiate the most dramatic nip/tuck in the history of the iconic course.

So as Watson slipped the green jacket over his gangly shoulders for the second time in three years following a fevered give-and-take on Sunday with Jordan Spieth at the Masters, one could imagine officials going back to the drawing board and bulldozer.

Back the first tee up to Butler Cabin, relocate the fourth green onto Berckmans Road and drag the tee at the 18th hole back to the shores of Rae’s Creek. Whatever it takes to make Augusta National Watson worthy.

Lore has it the Masters doesn’t begin until the second nine on Sunday, but the 78th edition turned well before the leading players arrived at Amen Corner.

In fact, the die was cast over a span of 15 minutes. At precisely 4:31 p.m. ET Spieth three-putted for bogey at the par-5 eighth hole and Watson, who was paired with the tenacious 20-year-old in Sunday’s final two-ball, made birdie for a two-shot swing.

At 4:46 p.m., Spieth rolled in his second consecutive bogey putt at the ninth and watched the 2012 champion go 2 up with a 9-footer for birdie, simultaneously sucking the wind out of the pines that line Augusta National’s closing loop.

Photos: Bubba Watson through the years | 78th Masters

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“(Nos.) 8 and 9 were really the turning point where momentum kind of went my way,” said Watson, who finished at 8-under 280. “Then the group in front of us and other groups, you could just tell, just nobody really caught fire. There wasn't too many birdies after No. 10, I don't think.”

Watson would play the rest of the way in even par for a Sunday 69. He would play the rest of the way like a champion.

There were hints of a potential Sunday charge, the kind of comeback that has become as much a part of Masters tradition as azaleas and pimento cheese sandwiches.

At 5:13 p.m., Jonas Blixt, one of 24 first-timers in the field and vying to become the first male Swede to win a major championship, birdied the par-5 13th hole to move to within two strokes but played his last five in even par.

Six minutes earlier, Spieth – who was pressing and probably reeling from his earlier miscues – hit a towering 9-iron tee shot into the par-3 12th that found the famous bank and trickled into the tributary to Rae’s Creek.

“The breeze was supposed to be into and it felt a little down, and I if smoke a 9-iron downwind that's going to fly in the back bunker, and that's what that hole does,” said Spieth, who was trying to become the youngest winner of the Masters. “I mean, that's what that hole is famous for is the swirling winds. So when I got over it, I felt like there was no way it was into. I felt like it was just dead. I guess I just got a little too aggressive over the ball.”

Spieth would drop to 5 under with his bogey at the 12th and, like most everyone else, par his way to also-ran status.

By this time, golf’s most famous 3,710 yards felt like a treadmill, with contenders large and small eyeing leaderboards that told a deflating tale.

“I was three back when I got to the tee at 11 and figured if I made birdie I could make a run, but once I got to through 15 I just saw shots continue to slip away,” said Matt Kuchar, who carded a final-round 74 to tie for fifth. “It’s a tough one. I don’t know how many opportunities you get to win the Masters.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez dethroned Fred Couples for the senior division title, finishing at 4 under par, which should help when he makes his Champions Tour debut next week up the road in Atlanta. Rickie Fowler matched the best major performance of his career with a tie for fifth despite a Sunday 73. And Rory McIlroy found the form that made him this week’s favorite two days too late to close with a 69 and tie for eighth.

But it was the quirky and unorthodox Watson who would make his second walk to victory, this time up the 18th hole (his 2012 victory ended on No. 10, the second playoff hole).

“Small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets,” said Watson, who became the 17th player with multiple Masters victories.

A year ago that kind of lofty status didn’t seem likely. After his victory in 2012, Watson managed just three top-10 finishes last season and failed to make the Presidents Cup team.

Earlier this season, however, “Bubba golf” returned with a victory at the Northern Trust Open in February along with runner-up showings in Phoenix and at the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month.

Even his return to Augusta was characterized by a return to normal.

“There was a calm over him this week,” said Watson’s manager Jens Beck. “He’s really enjoyed the week, from the Drive, Chip & Putt (Championship last Sunday) to the Champions Dinner. The stress has been off.”

Watson staked his claim to his second Masters title on Friday, when he scorched the second nine with five consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole for a three-stroke advantage at intermission.

Even after Saturday’s 74 left him tied with Spieth, Watson remained unfazed on his way to a sixth PGA Tour title.

It seems Bubba has grown up.

“After getting the green jacket the first time, in 2012, winning it, you know, it's overwhelming,” Watson said.It took me a year or so to get adjusted that I'm not really that good, I've got to keep practicing. Finally, I got adjusted to it and here we are with another green jacket.”

Given Watson’s erratic nature, perhaps officials don’t need to Bubba-proof Augusta National but there’s no ignoring his unique ability to overpower the former Fruitland Nursery (may we suggest banning left-handed players).

“Bubba golf is a freak show,” Watson’s caddie Ted Scott smiled. “When he hit the tee shot at 18 I asked him, ‘Are you from Mars?’”

Nope, he’s just a small town guy named Bubba with two green jackets.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."