AUGUSTA, Ga. — The gap wedge Bubba Watson hooked about 40 yards from pine straw deep in the trees to the right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club in 2012 gained him fame.
No single shot Watson hit Sunday in the final round of the 78th Masters will stand out quite like that one.
And that’s just fine with Watson.
He didn’t need the heroics of the shot on the second playoff hole against Louis Oosthuizen two years ago to capture a second green jacket and solidify his place among the game’s top players of his era.
Watson was more dominant Sunday. He took a two-shot lead with birdies on the eighth and ninth holes and maintained a three-shot lead through the final five holes en route to a three-shot win over Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth with an 8-under 280.
“The shot out of the woods made me famous, but this one was a lot better for me and my nerves and my family,” Watson said.
Watson shot a 3-under 69 in the final round and rebuffed history, as Spieth was attempting to become the youngest Masters champion at age 20, and the youngest major champion since 1922.
Spieth began the final round tied for the lead with Watson at 5 under and reached 8 under through seven holes, but bogeyed three of his final 11 holes to shoot an even-par 72.
“I’m hungry. To be honest with you that was fun, but it hurts right now,” Spieth said. “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 being in this position.”
The emotional Watson wept on the final green as he had following his first Masters victory. But before he putted out for par he had to avoid looking to the back of the green, where he might catch a glimpse of his wife, Angie, and their 2-year-old adopted son, Caleb.
“The last thing I wanted to do was look at the back of the green, because I figured they were there, because I would have broke down,” Watson said. “And I probably would have five-putted and lost. I just didn’t want to do that. … To have this tournament with all of us there on the last green, it’s an amazing feeling”
Watson admittedly had a “hangover from the green jacket” in the latter part of 2012 and last year, and he was also adapting to being a new father, having adopted Caleb a month before his Masters victory.
The six-time PGA Tour winner fell from fifth to 44th on the money list in 2013 and failed to make the 12-member U.S. Presidents Cup Team. The win Sunday is his second in the past two months and is his sixth top-10 in nine starts this year.
“This one is a lot different,” Watson said. “The first one for me it’s almost like I lucked into it. This one was a lot of hard work and dedication, and I got back here. After giving away that jacket last year, I kind of wanted it back.
“… It took me a year or so to get adjusted that I’m not really that good, I’ve got to keep practicing.”
Watson trailed Spieth by two shots through seven holes Sunday, but the tournament turned on the eighth and ninth holes, where a four-shot swing gave Watson a two-shot lead.
Watson birdied the par-5 eighth after a huge drive, shot over the green and near chip-in, and the par-4 ninth with a 10-foot putt to reach 8 under. Spieth, meanwhile, dropped from 8 under to 6 under with a three-putt bogey on the eighth and bogey on the ninth after landing his ball short of the flag and having it roll off the front of the green and missing a tricky 4-foot par putt. “Eight and nine were really the turning point where momentum kind of went my way,” Watson said.
Watson bogeyed the 10th, but Spieth bogeyed the 12th after landing his tee shot a yard shy of the green and watching it roll back into Rae’s Creek. He saved bogey with a downhill 12-footer.
Masters champions generally need a little luck, and Watson received it on the par-5 13th hole, where he pushed the advantage to three shots. His gargantuan drive clipped a tree as it cut through canopies on the inside of the dogleg-left hole and landed in the fairway just 145 yards from the pin, and he converted it into a two-putt birdie.
“When it took off, it was cutting a little too much,” Watson said. “I knew I hit it really hard. Obviously, when you get a roar on your tee shot, you know it’s pretty good. I could start breathing again once I heard them clapping and roaring.”
With a three-shot lead on the par-5 15th, Watson gambled and had to curl his second through trees to clear water and reach the green. The ball bounded over the green, he left his chip on the fringe and two-putted from there for par.
Spieth missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 15th that could have put some pressure on Watson, and the champion was unchallenged through the finish, as the back nine hollows of Augusta National were uncharacteristically quiet. “So lucky for me today is that nobody really made putts coming down the stretch, so I didn’t have to make putts myself,” Watson said.
He punctuated a 6-foot par putt on the 17th green with a forceful fist pump, knowing he could enjoy the crowd’s adulation walking up the 18th. “Having a three-shot lead, as long as my playing partner [Spieth] didn’t hole it from the fairway, I was very comfortable,” Watson said. “It was a lot easier coming down the last few holes, especially the last hole, knowing that I had a couple shots to play with.”
Spieth and Watson began the day tied for the lead at 5 under and Matt Kuchar was the only other player to grab a share of the lead, doing so with a birdie on the par-5 second and chip-in birdie on the third hole to reach 6 under.
But Kuchar four-putted the par-3 fourth hole from 60 feet to make a double bogey and was unable to make another run. He bogeyed the final two holes to tie for fifth at 2-under 286.
Spieth took the lead on the par-5 second hole with a 15-foot birdie putt and holed out from a bunker for birdie on the par-3 fourth to reach 7 under.
“I got off to kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta,” Spieth said. “It’s just so hard to play the first seven holes well out here, and I was 3 under through the first seven.”
From the fourth hole on, Watson had an answer for anything Spieth threw at him. Unfazed by Spieth’s bunker birdie, Watson made a 6-foot birdie putt on top of it at the fourth to remain two back. Spieth bogeyed the fifth to see his advantage drop to one shot, and he and Watson traded birdies on the par-3 sixth with tee shots to 2 and 8 feet, respectively. Watson holed his putt knowing Spieth was assured a birdie.
Spieth took another two-shot lead with a 12-foot downhill birdie putt on the seventh, but his round unraveled from there with bogeys on the next two holes and three of the next five, and Watson gained command.
Watson grew up in Bagdad, Fla., and is a little odd among touring pros in many ways. He’s certainly a quirky personality, a good ole southern boy who purchased The Dukes of Hazzard’s car the General Lee, and he isn’t afraid to look foolish in satirical music videos with three of his fellow PGA Tour pros.
The lefthander also has an unorthodox self-made swing that never hits a ball straight. He says he has never received a golf lesson, and that might be a reason his imaginative game fits with the nuances of Augusta National.
“A small town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets,” Watson said. “It’s pretty wild.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.