Bubba Watson wins Masters for second time in three years
AUGUSTA — Bubba Watson made history on Sunday, winning The Masters Tournament for the second time in the past three years.
The former University of Georgia golfer came into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club tied with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth for the lead, but Watson's five-birdie, two-bogey round made him impossible to catch as the 2012 Masters champion added another green jacket to his wardrobe.
“It's overwhelming, you know, to win twice,” said Watson, who became the 17th player with multiple Masters victories, joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson, among other golf greats. “Again, small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets, it's pretty wild.”
Watson finished the tournament, the first major championship of the year, with scores of 69-68-74-69–280 to finish at 8-under par. That left him three strokes clear of Spieth (71-70-70-72–283) and Jonas Blixt (70-71-71-71–283), a pair of players making their Masters Tournament debuts.
“It stings right now, and the only thing I'm thinking about is 'when am I getting back next year?' That's what's on my mind, because it's tough. It's tough being in this position,” said Spieth, who actually led by two strokes through seven holes before shooting even par with four birdies and four bogeys. “Obviously, I've worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it's very early in my career, and I'll have more chances, it's a stinger. And I had it in my hands and I could have gone forward with it, and just didn't quite make the putts, and that's what it came down to. But ultimately, I'm very happy with the week.”
Watson and Spieth played together in the final pairing, and for a short time, it looked like The Masters would turn into a match play competition between them. But Watson got better as the pressure increased, while Spieth made a few miscues that turned out to be the difference. During that same time, Blixt, a native of Sweden, delivered another consistent round and was tied for second after the 13th hole.
“It was a great day,” said Blixt, who bemoaned not giving himself enough chances to make birdies. “When you shoot under par at Augusta National on a Sunday, you should be pretty happy. Now, Bubba Watson played better. I got beat, and he deserves to win. I congratulate him for that. But I learned a lot today, and have a lot more new experiences and can't wait to come back.”
Rounding out the top five on the leaderboard was 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (71-76-66-71–284) at 4-under, followed by Americans Rickie Fowler (71-75-67-73–286) and Matt Kuchar (73-71-68-74–286) who tied for fifth at 2-under. At 1-under, Lee Westwood (73-71-70-73–287) was the only other player to finish the tournament under par.
But the tournament was truly defined by the strength of Watson's play. Coming into this year's tournament with far less fanfare than he endured a year ago as the defending champion, Watson finished the first round a stroke off the lead. For the rest of the tournament, he was on top of the leaderboard at the end of each successive round, playing with poise and a plan of attack, unlike the grip it and rip it reputation he's garnered for playing a style best known as “Bubba Golf.”
Trailing by two strokes, Watson turned things around just before the turn on Augusta National's first nine. He hit massive drives on holes Nos. 8 and 9 to help make back-to-back birdies. At the same time, Spieth recorded consecutive bogeys and surrendered the lead.
“I hit two great shots on 8. 8 and 9 were really the turning point where momentum kind of went my way,” Watson reflected. “The group in front of us and other groups, you could just tell, just nobody really caught fire.”
Once Watson had the lead, he avoided mistakes and even got lucky on No. 13 when his drive glanced off a tree and took a fortuitous bounce into the fairway. He birdied that hole and moved ahead by three strokes – the final margin. Watson showed his shot making ability again on No. 17, when his drive went wide left. He recovered, and when he sank a par putt, gave a small fist pump as he had all but clinched the championship.
When he came up the 18th fairway, he said he struggled to keep his nerves in check. Not just because he was on the verge of his second Masters title, but because he knew his wife, Angie, and his two-year-old son, Caleb, were waiting for him. They weren't able to attend Watson's Masters win in 2012 because Caleb had just been adopted, so the chance to celebrate another victory on golf's hallowed ground with them caused Watson to fight back tears, especially as Caleb waited for his father, who wrapped him up with a big hug.
“Seeing him, what a blessing that is for us to have to go through the adoption process. There's so many kids out there that need homes, would love homes. So you know, what a dream, hate to say this because I have it on right now, but having my son means more to me than the green jacket,” said Watson, who's looking for more success following this Masters win than the first one. “After getting the green jacket the first time, 2012, winning it, you know, it's overwhelming. ... It's crazy to think that you've won. So it took me a while to – at the same time, adopting my son the week before threw a wrench in there, as well. Learning to be a dad and then learning to have a green jacket with you is two big things to adjust to. 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 another green jacket after a year, two years.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.