Masters ushers golf’s best to green

The Masters, the first major golf tournament of the year played at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, is the single best event of the PGA Tour season. It is truly special. Of the four major tournaments, the other three being the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship, the Masters is the only one that is played at the same golf course every year—the same supremely spectacular golf course. And whereas the trophies for the other three majors are silver jugs, the winner of the Masters gets a green sports coat with three gold buttons and the Augusta National logo over the heart. This year, like every year, the course was resplendent, the drama and emotion running high.

What was is it that George W. Bush said? “Fool me once…shame on…shame on you. Fool me once can’t get fooled again.” That is indeed the quote. Ironically, a golfer from Bagdad (no “h”), Florida had many golf fans stumbling over that same bit of laconic wisdom at sundown in Georgia as the Masters drew to a close. Gerry Lester Watson Jr., popularly known as Bubba Watson, won his second Green Jacket today, leaving his naysayers again with their tongues tied. Although Bubba had previously won on the PGA tour, he cemented his presence by improbably winning the Masters two years ago in a playoff against South African golfer Louis Ooshuizen. Fool me once. It had to have been a fluke. Here’s a left-handed guy who taught himself how to play golf. He hits the ball a mile and takes unnecessary risks, but is enormously creative with his play, creating shots that others simply couldn’t. His swing isn’t the perfectly balanced, rhythmic stroke of Masters winners past. After every shot he takes, Watson leans dramatically, further affecting his off kilter look. In other words, Watson is as unconventional as golfers come. And he just won golf’s most conventional tournament for the second time in three years. Because of his natural talent, few doubted that Watson could win a tournament here or there on the PGA Tour, but for him to be a multiple major winner defies all logic. Did the golf world get fooled again this evening? Maybe. Or maybe Bubba Watson is actually a great golfer.

All signs point to the latter after today. The final three holes on the front nine prove as much. Watson began the day in the final pairing with 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth, both of them at five under par. On the par-three sixth hole, Spieth holed a near-impossible bunker shot to get him to seven under par, then followed that up with a birdie on the seventh to get him to eight under par and two shots clear of Watson. Bubba also birdied the sixth, albeit in less fabulous fashion, but after a par on the seventh, it seemed like momentum had shifted irreversibly in Spieth’s favor. Over the course of the next two holes, though, Watson would his mettle as a physically and psychologically gifted golfer. He could have collapsed; his will could have been broken following the furious charge of his young playing partner.  The par five eighth and par four ninth both yielded birdies for Watson. Meanwhile, Spieth misplayed a chip that lead to a bogey on the eighth and followed that up with a bogey on the ninth. Where once Spieth had lead by two, he was now trailing by two. It was a four-shot swing in two holes. Finally, it was clear who was mentally ready to win the Masters. Watson wouldn’t relinquish the lead after that point, eventually winning by a comfortable three strokes.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this year’s Masters tournament is that Tiger Woods missed playing in the event for the first time since 1996. Perhaps more remarkable still is that the tournament didn’t need him. No one has done more for golf than Woods. He brought bigger money, more exposure, and a new level of fitness and physical preparedness to the game. And after winning the tournament four times, he is one of Augusta National’s greatest champions. Regardless of his absence, the Masters seemed just as big and majestic as ever. And that’s because it was. Jordan Spieth, all 20 years of him, could be the game’s next mega star. Although there was no playoff like the previous two Masters, there was no shortage of excitement this year, thanks largely to the volatility of Watson’s game. Bubba may never win another major. He will never be great consistently because his style dictates otherwise. Who knows, though? At this point, golf fans the world over might now want to count Bubba Watson out. He’s won a major twice, and he could do it again.

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