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Watson: The Grinch who stole the Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Grinch Who Stole the Masters is a gentle soul. He’s sensitive. He worries. He cries. Oh, he cries all the time. He’s temperamental, too. He can go from groovy to grumpy in a splash, then right back to groovy again. When he’s happy, he’s really happy, and when he’s unhappy, well, he’s really unhappy.

He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 180 pounds – give or take a donut, if you believe the commercial. He wears a size 44-long green jacket. This he didn’t steal. He earned it two years ago, way before he became the Grinch. In fact, back then he was downright generous, authoring one of the most dramatic Masters finishes in history. He moved you to the edge of your seat, then caused you to jump right out of it. If Masters Sunday is like Christmas morning, then he brought you everything on your list.

This time, though, he wasn’t in such a giving mood. For everyone who tingles with anticipation for 364 days in hopes of a dazzling back-nine Masters finish, he robbed this place of the roars. He took away your excitement. He turned the greatest day on the annual golf calendar into a two-hour snoozefest before dinner.

The Grinch is named Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. – but you can call him Bubba.

To his credit, he didn’t start out the day as Augusta’s answer to watching paint dry. Despite his prodigious length, he failed to birdie the par-5 second hole, falling a stroke behind playing partner Jordan Spieth. By the time they walked off the fourth hole, he was two down. The same differential existed three holes later.

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We appeared destined for one of those unpredictable, roller-coaster final rounds, the kind that have made these hallowed grounds even more revered. There are times when the green jacket is like a ball in a roulette wheel, the lucky winner claiming the prize if he’s on the right number when it stops rolling. This was going to be one of those times. Maybe it would be the 20-year-old Spieth. Or the 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez. Or one of any number of contenders.

Bubba changed that thinking in a hurry.

He birdied the eighth hole when Spieth bogeyed to move into a tie. They repeated those scores on the ninth to give Bubba a two-stroke lead going to the back nine. And you know what they say, over and over again, every year: The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.

As it turns out, this one was finished when the final pairing made the turn. Bubba dropped a shot on the 10th, but extended his lead to two again at the 12th hole. From there, he put it into cruise control.

The Grinch robbed us of our magical Masters Sunday.

“The shot out of the woods made me famous,” he admitted, “but this one was a lot better for me and my nerves.”

It was so boring that even Bubba was bored. A self-proclaimed, undiagnosed sufferer of attention deficit disorder, he wouldn’t allow himself to bunt the ball around the last half-dozen holes and play defense. Instead of running out the clock, he was throwing Hail Marys.

On the par-5 13th hole, he decided to cut off the corner and blasted his drive 366 yards … with a fade … off a tree branch. He birdied, of course.

Two holes later, leading by three, the entire viewing audience collectively cringed when he decided to throw caution to the negligible wind. Rather than play it smart and lay up on the par-5 15th, he went for the risky play and tried to reach in two. It was pretty exciting – for a few seconds. Until his ball bounded off the back of the green and he carded a par to retain the advantage.

“You know me,” he said with a smile, “I wanted to get it a little closer to the pin, and so I cut it a little bit without telling my caddie I was going to do that.”

By the time the final pairing reached the 18th green, site of so many fireworks for 77 previous editions of this tournament, it was all over but the crying.

While Bubba was lining up his birdie attempt with caddie Ted Scott, you might have been dozing off. That’s OK – it’s exactly what he wanted. He robbed you, on the greatest afternoon of the golf year, of any excitement.

“Teddy was helping read [it],” he explained. “I went over to him and I said, ‘I'm not very good at math, but we've got four putts, right? He goes, ‘Yes, just lag it down.’

“It's a lot better for my nerves this way.”

For him, sure. He didn’t have to make a crucial birdie down the stretch or hit a near-impossible hook shot from the trees. He didn’t have to sweat it out. He didn’t have to be too nervous.

It wasn’t better for you, though. Bubba’s poise and composure down the stretch deprived you of the thrill ride that so often happens on golf’s greatest afternoon.

That’s why, in the end, this Sunday truly belonged to the Grinch Who Stole the Masters.