Bubba Watson, something of an afterthought when he took the field with playing partner and 54-hole co-leader Jordan Spieth for Sunday’s finale at Augusta, came from behind to stun the kid expected to become the youngest ever to win the Masters.
Watson, who won the championship in 2012 with a shot for the ages in a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen, posted a final-round 3-under 69 to get to 8-under for the week and a three-shot victory over Masters rookies Spieth and Jonas Blixt, thanks to his length off the tee as well as 11 one-putts in the finale.
Watson, who went on a birdie blitz on Friday and scuffled a tad on Saturday, with four bogeys on the front side -- two more than he had made in both of the previous two rounds -- began the final round tied at 5-under with Spieth. He let the field back in the game with a third-round 2-over 74 and was looking forward to sharing the last pairing with Spieth.
'We're pretty good friends,'' Watson told reporters. ''It's going to be fun. It will be interesting, but be fun. Hopefully one of us wins, if not me hopefully him.''
With the shadow of the injured Tiger Woods, skipping his first Masters since 1994, looming over Augusta all week, the 20-year-old Spieth did his best to make the golf world forget about the missing world No. 1. He began the day as the youngest contender to hold a share of the Masters lead after 54 holes and aimed to better the age record set by Tiger in 1997 when the then-21-year-old future superstar won the first of his four green jackets.
But it was the emotional and entertaining Watson, beloved by many golf fans but certainly not by all given his history of controversial actions and remarks, who had Augusta’s patrons firmly on his side as he drained the game-winning putt for the second time in three years.
Indeed, Watson set his own record on Sunday, becoming the fastest golfer in history to win his second green jacket. In doing so, he bested Horton Smith, who won his second Masters on his third attempt in 1936, and Jimmy Demaret (1947) and Arnold Palmer (1960), each of whom needed six starts.
On Sunday, Spieth seemed to get his anticipated victory tour off to a decent start. After a wayward tee shot on the first tee, he found an opening in the trees and blasted his approach up the slope of the first green and watched the ball drift back down toward the hole in what CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz called a "scary good" result. He two-putted for par, as did Watson, so no harm, no foul.
By the par-5 second, with Watson’s birdie putt sliding by the hole, Spieth took a 1-shot lead when his own lengthy putt dropped in for a four. Spieth’s edge was short-lived, however, as Matt Kuchar, one group ahead of the marquee duo, immediately chipped in for a birdie on the par-4 third to get to 6-under as well.
A par on the third for Spieth was all he needed for a two-shot lead after Kuchar bogeyed the fourth. Then, just as Watson looked ready to make a dent in his playing partner’s lead with a good tee shot to the fourth green and Spieth in the middle of a huge green-side bunker, the kid holed out for an improbable two. Bubba made his putt to get to 5-under and a two-shot disadvantage.
Fun factoid: Only one of the last 21 Masters champs -- Mark O’Meara in 1998 -- posted a birdie on No. 4 in the final round.
Spieth gave his opponents an opening with a dropped stroke at No. 5 after an errant tee shot, an approach into a green-side bunker, and a missed par putt. Watson one-putted for par and was just one back.
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Watson kept the pressure on with a shot just over the flag on the sixth, which Spieth answered by sticking his ball below the hole, followed by a tongue wag that reminded many of a certain other major champion named Jordan. Two birdie putts later and the two walked to the seventh tee with Spieth one-up on Watson, who blasted out of an iffy lie in a green-side bunker and watched as his ball wiggled back toward the hole, leaving a tap-in for par.
But that wasn’t good enough, as Spieth calmly knocked his ball in for birdie, moved to the eighth tee at 8-under and with a two-shot lead over Watson, and the two who began the day atop the leaderboard began separating themselves from the rest of the field.
The wheels began to wobble on the Spieth train to immortality on the par-5 eighth when he came up short with a birdie putt and missed his comebacker for par. Meanwhile, Watson made four and after a two-shot swing, the game was tied.
Spieth made another error on the following hole, when his approach from 151 yards hit the green’s false front and his ball rolled back down into the fairway. That opened the door for Watson, who, from 121 yards, knocked it hole high and swung a right-to-left putt in the side door for birdie as Spieth two-putted for bogey and another two shots dropped.
In a stunning turn of events, Spieth lost four strokes in two holes and made the turn with Watson up by two. Spieth, who has a temper, slammed his iron into the turf after a disappointing approach shot to the par-4 10th that found a green-side bunker. But he thumped it out, leaving a tap-in for par.
Watson’s approach was little better. He pitched his next one well past the pin, and made his second bogey of the day, giving Spieth some hope when he was able to recover one of those four dropped shots. The kid put the onus back on Bubba with a terrific approach to No. 11 but walked away with a two-putt par, as did his opponent.
Spieth’s magical mystery ride came to a soggy end when he rinsed his tee shot to the par-3 12th. He landed his ball a yard short and watched as his ball fell backward into the drink. Watson finessed a chip shot from the fringe above the hole down to the pin and walked away with par as Spieth was able to save bogey with an excellent downhill putt.
A par-5 at 13 for Spieth left him in a two-way tie with Blixt for second, and both fell three shots behind when Watson made birdie. Watson and Spieth traded pars at 14, with the former still three-up with four to play.
Bubba being Bubba, the longest bomber on tour barely cleared the water with his approach on the treacherous par-5 15th, raising an "ooh!' from the crowd as well as the TV broadcasters, but landing in a swale behind the green. A risky shot, for sure, especially after his wedge shot came up short and he left his knee-knocking downhill putt wide right. Par-par and the leading men moved to the 16th with Bubba dormy -- three-up with three remaining.
Two ho-hum pars on 16, 17 and 18 and the 2014 Masters was a wrap for Watson, who came into the week with a 2013-2014 record that involved a withdrawal from Bay Hill due to allergies and six top-five finishes, including a win at the Northern Trust Open. The W at Riviera was his first tour victory since the Masters triumph two years ago and Watson noted that he was more comfortable at Augusta for this edition of the men’s first major of the season than when he returned last year as defending champion.
"This year, I’m trying to get the jacket back ... You want that feeling again, you want that back," said Watson, who finished T50 in 2013, "and somehow I’m lost in the crowd so it’s good that I can just go around my practice rounds, not too much media attention, and I can just play golf and practice like I want to."
Six-time PGA Tour winner Bubba, born Gerry Lester Watson in Bagdad, Fla., spoke earlier in the week about the "secret" to his success.
"It's not science here," he said. "If you're hitting the greens, that means you're obviously hitting your tee shots well."
The other not-so-hush-hush lesson Watson learned after his wild, post-Masters-win media ride: ignore news reports and TV coverage during the weeks he’s in contention.
"Just keep my head down and not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff," Watson said. "Trying to stay level; not too energized, not too excited."
It’s okay now, Bubba. You’re Masters champ again; time to get excited.