Monday, April 14

Bubba Golf: Green Jackets and Hash Browns


Bubba Watson, wife Angie and friends celebrate at Waffle House. (Courtesy @judahsmith)
WE KNEW BUBBA HAD ALL THE SHOTS, but this time, this Sunday, the new Lefty was in total control of his game even when the kid (Jordan Spieth) threw a haymaker at him on Augusta's front nine. Bubba took it, and countered with his own combination at holes 8 and 9, cruising to a 69 and a three-shot Masters victory, his second Green Jacket in three years.

None of the other closest challengers broke 70. Runners-up Spieth (72) and Jonas Blixt (71) were unable to mount a back-nine charge. Fifty-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez (71) finished solo fourth. Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler couldn't make it happen on Sunday. Their sluggish 74s landed them in a tie for fifth. Meanwhile, two-time champion Bernard Langer, also on the other side of 50, and Rory McIlroy posted closing 69s to share the eighth spot.

There was an odd tone to the final day.

Judging from the TV coverage and social media, the collective will of the golf universe seemed to be focused on young Spieth. If the sheer force of the media and golf populace could determine the outcome, the former University of Texas standout might today be the youngest Masters champion at age 20. It seemed preordained. At least that's the feeling I got listening to the early coverage. I was reminded that it had been exactly 17 years since Tiger Woods was the youngest player to slip on the Green Jacket, which was 17 years since Seve Ballesteros was the youngest, which was 17 years since Jack Nicklaus was the youngest.

No one told Bubba, who was totally uncooperative and apparently had no sense of history. The fact was, he was just too good, too steady, too smart. Yes, smart. Guile was a part of his arsenal. This was a new Bubba.

There was something odd about that front nine, although I readily admit hindsight is 20/20.

Spieth played some incredible shots and carded four birdies on the first seven holes to take a two-shot lead over the 2012 champion, and yet I didn't feel he was in control of his game. His hand was coming off the club; his misses with his driver and iron shots were going left. My sense was that he didn't have a swing problem, but rather was quick or out of sync with his timing because of the gravity of the situation. It was Sunday at the Masters. The pressure got to him long before he began talking to himself on the final nine.

Bubba took the kid's best punches early and never flinched. After Spieth holed a bunker shot for an improbable birdie at the long par-3 4th hole, Bubba cooly sank his five-footer for a matching two. When the 20-year-old stuffed his iron shot at the par-3 6th hole, Bubba rolled in his mid-range putt for birdie.

Who was this man from Bagdad?

A two-time champion, as it turned out. Bubba controlled his golf ball better than anyone and never stumbled on those frightening Augusta greens.

Spieth made the kind of mistakes you would expect from a 20-year-old, although veterans make them, too, don't they? He parred 8, was short of the green at 9, splashed down at 12. This wasn't his time, but he reminded us of players named Seve, Tiger and Rory. He showed us that he can win a Green Jacket, and nearly did before the young McIlroy.

"This one's a lot different," said Watson after slapping hands with the patrons, his son Caleb on his arm. "The first one, for me, it was almost like I lucked into it."

No, this wasn't luck.

By the way, that "17" number the talking heads were touting early on Sunday afternoon did have significance after all. Bubba Watson is the 17th player to win the Masters twice.

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