Nestled into a patch of straw between a collection of pine trees and towering magnolias, Gerry Lester Watson Jr. studied the most important shot of his career with all the concern of an assembly line worker halfway through the graveyard shift.
If Bubba Watson’s heart was racing, his mind – normally a collision of disjointed thoughts – was quiet and content. As the crow flies, if said crow had directional issues, Watson had 165 winding yards between his ball right of Augusta National’s 10th fairway and the hole.
Or, as his friend Rickie Fowler pointed out, Watson was “in the wrong place at the right time.”
Following four consecutive birdies starting at the 13th hole during an eventful final turn at last year’s Masters, Watson finished regulation with a 68 and tied for the lead with Louis Oosthuizen at 10 under par.
After trading pars with the South African at the first extra frame (No. 18), the big left-hander pulled a mammoth drive into the trees right of the 10th fairway. With little debate, Watson and caddie Ted Scott settled on a 52-degree gap wedge that roped some 50 yards out of the trees and spun – up the hill, no less – to 15 feet.
Two putts later chairman Billy Payne uttered the words few outside of Bagdad, Fla., ever thought possible – Your 2012 Masters champion, Bubba Watson.
Few will remember Watson’s birdie barrage to finish his final round, or even more insanely inspired shots on Thursday and Friday, according to his caddie. But every golf fan will remember The Shot.
Scott had been here before. Through countless Tour stops and casual rounds, Watson has made a career out of hitting the impossible shot – the byproduct of surreal hand-eye coordination and off-the-charts clubhead speed. When Watson and Scott arrived at the wayward drive deep in the woods at No. 10 there was no panic, no discussion. There was no need.
“It was a perfect lie, the ball was a little above his feet, everything was set up for that shot,” said Scott, who never suggested that maybe Watson should consider playing the safe shot and chipping out. “We weren’t worried. We have a saying, ‘If Bubba has a swing, Bubba has a shot.’”
In fact, Scott contends the instant classic Watson hit on the second overtime hole wasn’t even the best shot he hit at the 2012 Masters.
“It was the third-best (shot) that week,” said Scott without a hint of hyperbole.
An aerial graphic of Watson's shot on the 10th hole in the 2012 Masters playoff
The second-best shot for Watson at last year’s Masters was on Friday at the seventh when Watson’s drive again found trees right of the fairway and he carved a 9-iron out of a 10-foot wide opening in the trees to 8 feet.
A day earlier Watson had hit the week’s best, at least according to Scott, when he pinched his ball from a “fluffy” lie in the pine straw right of the 11th fairway onto the green.
“He has to hit it low and aim left of the water and at the scoreboard sign and hook it enough to miss the water. I say to him, ‘Let’s just chip out.’ He says, ‘You know I’m known for hooking it,’” Scott said. “He says, ‘I got this, back up.’ To this day I didn’t think that was possible. Who does that?”
So forgive Watson if his predicament right of the 10th fairway in the playoff on Sunday didn’t exactly send chills down his spine.
What to most would have been akin to a half-court buzzer beater was to Watson about as close to a stock shot as he has in his twisting repertoire.
“Because my nickname is ‘Freak Show,’ because I can hit shots that people don’t hit,” Watson said. “You can have the most-educated man in the world, and he can put a hypothesis on it but it doesn’t make sense.”
Cue arguably the game’s most-educated man.
Sean Foley has carved an impressive career out of combining the art and science of the golf swing. With a combination of TrackMan data and centuries of swing theory, Foley enjoys a stable of players who seamlessly mix powerful athleticism (Tiger Woods) and repeatable mechanics (Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose).
When Foley watched Watson hook his approach into Masters lore last April he was, like most golf fans, entertained and impressed. But few, if any, could also appreciate the pure science of the winding wedge like Foley.
“Looking at where the ball started, the face was probably slightly closed, maybe 2 degrees closed. The path, the movement of the face at impact, was probably close to 10 to 12 degrees in to out,” Foley said.
Foley also pointed out that few in the game have the tools to move the ball the way Watson did, regardless of the situation.
“Mike Weir can do the same thing but the ball will never curve as much,” Foley said. “One of the reasons Bubba is one of the only players who can do that, left- or right-handed, is because of the velocity he can create. The more speed you have the more you can curve the ball. It’s not talent or skill, it’s straight speed.”
Although Watson appeared to start The Shot at the leading edge of the fairway bunker, which is about 100 yards short of the putting surface, Scott said that true to form Watson was simply trying to get his golf ball through the trees and then “hook the dog out of it.” Aerodynamics, geometry and genetics would take care of the rest.
Oosthuizen had already enjoyed his own “shot” 18 holes earlier. From 210 yards, the South African’s towering 4-iron second shot at the par-5 second hole bounced twice and slowly curved to the right before dropping into the hole for the first double eagle in Masters history at the second.
“You know those type of shots happen to win an event,” said Oosthuizen, who moved to 10 under par and two strokes clear of the field with the double eagle. “But I knew it was early. If that happened on the 15th hole it was a different situation. It took me awhile to get over having the lead. That front nine I was defending a lead pretty much, which was not very good.”
Oosthuizen’s take was prophetic, and following his approach into the 10th hole in the playoff, a 5-iron which dropped short of the putting surface, he had perhaps the best vantage of Watson’s hooking wedge shot as he walked to the green.
“I was level with him when I walked up the fairway and saw the shot and saw it was curving quite a bit,” Oosthuizen laughed. “You have to be a left-hander to hit that shot. It was a great shot. It was his week. If it was me, no right-hander (who would have had to cut the golf ball) could have hit that shot.”
Like many, Oosthuizen was stunned when Watson’s ball dropped on the green and spun up the slope to 15 feet.
“It spun left to right maybe 3 yards. It shows you how much hook he had to hit,” Oostshuizen said. “To pull that shot off in a playoff situation at Augusta, it goes down as one of the great shots in his career.”
Among the hordes flocking to catch a glimpse of history around Augusta National’s 10th green late Sunday was a high-profile threesome who had been watching the proceedings with particular interest.
When Ben Crane completed his final round at the 2012 Masters, an eventful 73 that left him one stroke outside the top 16 and an automatic invitation back to the 2013 Masters, he joined Rickie Fowler – who had already changed into his “street clothes” and was preparing to make the drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., for the next Tour stop – in the “caddie barn” to watch the frenzied finish.
As the duo’s friend inched closer to his green jacket the two realized something special was in the making.
“All of a sudden I look at Rickie and I’m like, ‘Buddy, are you ready? This could happen.’” Crane said. “He had to change clothes. He couldn’t go out on this golf course in street clothes.”
Fowler suited back up in his signature Sunday orange and the two met Aaron Baddeley, who had already left Augusta National to pick up his kids from daycare but raced back as the finish loomed, behind the 10th green. They couldn’t see the lie or the swing, but could tell Watson had hit by the crowd reaction.
“I actually ducked,” Crane said. “I was behind the green and I heard him hit and saw the ball, it was right at us. Instinctively I started ducking and then I heard five seconds later people were going nuts. Someone said, ‘It’s on the green.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Fowler had a similar reaction.
“I was saying, ‘hook,’” Fowler said. “It started out pretty far left of the green and from a golfer’s perspective you can normally see the shot, but from the other side coming out it looks a little different. I said 'hook' a couple of times.”
Watson’s shot, on command, kept hooking until it rolled out, 15 feet and two putts from history. It was a shot that was made to order for a guy who bends it like Bubba, an attempt that on any other day wouldn’t have even rated a high-five. But in overtime with the Masters hanging in the balance it was nothing short of brilliant.
“If I was just playing with my buddies, they are like, whatever,” Watson said. “But because of the situation, I put the green jacket on after, so yeah, I made it a big deal.”