Watson claims first major; makes dreams come true


AUGUSTA, Ga. – Everyone expected the freewheeling left-hander to make history on Sunday at Augusta National, just not this southpaw.

As dusk descended on Augusta National late Sunday, club chairman Billy Payne broke the damp silence and announced, “Charl (Schwartzel), would you do me the great honor of placing the green jacket on Bubba.”

It’s a sentence few outside of Bagdad, Fla., ever expected to be uttered on these hallowed grounds.

But if Bubba Watson isn’t exactly the lefty everyone expected to win the year’s first major, he proved to be every bit as thrilling as Phil Mickelson on another frantic Sunday afternoon on the former fruit nursery.

With a scorching run of four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 Watson pulled even with Louis Oosthuizen and weathered a two-hole playoff, a collection of wayward tee balls and a mind with more side roads than this cozy north Georgia enclave.

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Welcome to the world of Bubba, a stream-of-consciousness place where the moment is all that matters and emotions are worn comfortably for all the world to see, much like a new green jacket.

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“I’ve never had a dream go this far so I can’t say it’s a dream come true,” said Watson, who closed with a 68 to match Oosthuizen at 10 under and force the second playoff in four years. “I dreamed about it, I just never made the putt.”

After a first-hole three-putt Watson made everything that mattered on a Chamber of Commerce afternoon, quietly keeping pace with the quiet South African until his birdie burst on the back nine, the first a bounce-back kick-start at the par-5 13th hole following a three-putt from the back fringe on No. 12.

At the 14th Watson rolled in a 6-footer and followed with a two-putt birdie putt on the 15th and completed his run with an 8-iron to 8 feet at the 16th hole. From there it was a question of attrition, not against Oosthuizen, but himself.

Following missed birdie attempts at the 72nd hole (20 feet) and the first playoff hole (8 feet) that would have ended the drama, Watson pulled his tee shot in the second extra frame into the woods right of the 10th fairway.

From 164 yards and with no sight of the green, Watson did what he does best, roping a 52-degree wedge 40 yards around a TV tower to 12 feet.

“Pretty easy,” Watson laughed.

Truth is the game has been anything but easy for Watson in recent years. The talent was willing, but the mind always racing, rebelling at the worst possible moments in the past and undermining one of the game’s most creative players.

On Sunday at Augusta National Watson didn’t so much beat Oosthuizen – or Mickelson, who finished tied for third – as much as he beat the demons and doubts that swirl within.

“He’s so emotional and wears it on his sleeve,” said Johan Elliot, a member of Watson’s management team. “He’s been emotional this week, but the last two mornings he’s been very calm and it’s been very apparent.”

Inwardly, perhaps, but calm doesn’t begin to characterize Sunday’s drama.

When Watson two-putted for par at the second extra hole after Oosthuizen failed to get up-and-down from in front of the green he ended a day that began with one of the most historic shots in Masters history.

Less than 30 minutes into the leaders’ final round Oosthuizen roped a 4-iron on the par-5 second hole that flew 210 yards to the front of the green and didn’t stop rolling until it dropped into the hole.

It was just the fourth double eagle in Masters’ history, the first at the second hole and vaulted Oosthuizen into the lead at 10 under.

Hmmm, a South African holes out from the fairway on his outward nine on Sunday at Augusta National. Believe we’ve seen, and heard, this before.

“I needed to pitch it about five or six paces on the green and I knew if I get it right it’s going to feed towards the hole, but I never thought it would go in,” said Oosthuizen, who finished with a 69 for his best Masters showing.

Although he maintained the lead throughout the afternoon, Oosthuizen would play his next 18 holes (including the playoff) in 1 over par, including his bogey at the last.

Yet as surprising as Oosthuizen’s shot at the second was it somehow paled in comparison to Mickelson’s meltdown at the fourth hole when his tee shot ricocheted off the bleachers left of the green and into the woods.

From there Mickelson took as many swings right-handed at the par 3 as Oosthuizen took on the par-5 second. All told Lefty needed five swings to reach the green and tumbled outside the top five.

Mickelson’s quest to win his fourth green jacket was defined, and ultimately derailed, by three numbers – two triple bogeys (No. 10 on Thursday and the fourth on Sunday) and 30, his closing nine on Saturday to give him a spot in Sunday’s final pairing.

It was quintessential “Thrill,” at his best and worst.

“It hit the metal railing and shot into the trees,” Mickelson said. “Not only was it unplayable but I couldn’t take an unplayable (lie). There was no place to go other than back to the tee. So I took the risk of trying to hit it a few times.”

Although Peter Hanson, who began the day with a one-stroke lead over Mickelson, didn’t collapse as spectacularly his demise was just as pronounced. The Swede played his first three holes in 2 over par and finished tied for third place with Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood and Mickelson.

Nowhere this side of Las Vegas do one’s fortunes change so dramatically.

At least Mickelson and Hanson had a chance on Sunday. Tiger Woods, who began the week as the betting favorite, opened with a pedestrian 72 and was never in the conversation on his way to his worst finish (T-40) at the Masters as a professional.

Ditto for Rory McIlroy, who didn’t wait until the back nine on Sunday to unravel this year. The Ulsterman closed with rounds of 77-76 to finish tied with Woods, 15 strokes behind Watson.

There is one piece of good news for McIlroy. Watson’s adventure down the 10th hole in the playoff may let him off the hook. No longer will visitors ask where McIlroy’s tee shot in 2011 ended up. Instead they will march to the woods right of the fairway and marvel at Watson’s imagination, if not his indifference for convention.

“I just hit a crazy shot I saw in my head,” Watson figured when asked about his carving masterpiece.

It’s a head finally filled with the conclusion to a dream that once never seemed possible.

Viewer's note: Catch a special edition of 'Feherty' with Bubba Watson Monday at 8 p.m. ET.