Bubba holds nerve to take second Masters title in three years
A disappointed Rory McIlroy has his best showing at Masters yet in joint eighth
The golfing gods had a choice between two players who regularly frequent bible study on tour: one already with a near-as-new green jacket of his own; the other a 20-year-old – Jordan Spieth – who was chasing history. When it mattered, the favours were bestowed on Bubba Watson, who claimed his second Masters title in the space of three years in claiming this 78th edition of the championship.
In truth, this was a wonderful closure by Watson, a self-taught player who mixes a jumpiness and jittery disposition with an ability to stay in the moment when it matters standing over the ball. A worthy champion.
Unlike his win of two years ago when he required a once-in-a-lifetime recovery from the pine needles to defeat Louis Oosthuizen in a play-off, this time the big-hitting left-hander was in cruise control, or close to that state, for the homeward journey.
On a lovely, sunny day on this course created by the genius of Bobby Jones and Alister Mackenzie, where history called out to Spieth in his attempt to usurp Tiger Woods as the youngest champion, it was Watson who answered the call with a closing round of 69 for 280, eight under par, that gave him a three shot winning margin over joint runners-up Spieth and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt.
The drama of the front nine was at times spell-binding, as Spieth audaciously holed out from a bunker for a rare birdie on the Par 3 fourth and had improbably moved into a two-stroke lead standing on the eight tee box. That was as good as it got for the wannabe Major champion, as a finish to that front nine of bogey-bogey contrasted with Watson’s birdie-birdie run. Watson turned in 33, Spieth in 35; eight-under to six-under.
If Blixt stubbornly hung around to ensure that it wouldn’t be a shootout duel between the two who had shared the 54-hole lead, the true drama was played out in the final pairing with only a shot separating them as they headed into Amen Corner following Watson’s bogey on the 10th.
It proved to be defining. For, on the Par 3 12th hole, one which has played a rich role in creating the mystique of this part of the course, Spieth’s tee shot hit the bank in front of the green and rolled with conviction back down the slope and into the pond. To his credit, Spieth managed to get up and down from the drop zone to salvage a bogey. But it was another shot dropped, and further daylight to Watson.
On the Par 5 13th, Watson unleashed the most remarkable drive of the day. His pink-shafted Ping driver curled the ball around the corner, a massive hit of 366 yards, and he was left with a wedge to the green. He two-putted for another birdie and Spieth, who had been forced to lay up after hitting his tee shot into the trees, only managed a par.
Inside an hour, Watson had moved from two behind standing on the eighth tee to three ahead. He would not relinquish control thereafter.
Remarkably, without ever truly contending, Rory McIlroy claimed his best ever finish in the Masters. A closing round of 69 for a level par total of 288 left the 24-year-old Ulsterman in tied-eighth. He was nevertheless philosophical.
“I played the Par 5s in even par this week, which you just can’t do out here. I’m even par for the tournament and even par for the Par 5s. You’re looking to play the Par 5s somewhere around 10- to 12-under par. If I had of done that, it would have been a different story.”
He added: “It’s been a frustrating week, because I felt like from tee-to-green I played as good as the leaders. ”
Some positive vibes to take into the future, but with a feeling nevertheless of what might have been.
But this was Bubba’s time. Again.