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.
“(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.