Maybe it was the back-to-back two-shot swings Bubba Watson picked up on Jordan Spieth on the back end of the front nine, but it was moon shot Watson hit off of No. 13 tee with a two-shot lead that seemed to slam the door on Spieth and the rest of the field.
Watson had the honor on 13 tee after Spieth couldn’t manufacture a Freddie moment on 12; the 20-year-old’s ball peeking at the green before retreating back down the shaved slope into Rae’s Creek. To his credit, though, the Texan made an admirable up-and-down for a bogey 4. This was Go Time and Bubba let one go on 13 tee.
“I knew it. 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.”
The roars that reverberate around Amen Corner on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club usually come from stuck approach shots or ticklish putts that find the bottom of the cup, but Watson’s 360-plus yard drive was enough to get the patrons on their feet.
Your move, kid.
After a sizzling start, Spieth’s wheels were wobbling around the middle of the golf course. Now, looking at a demanding tee shot with the guy he was chasing sitting with a wedge into the par-5, Spieth needed an answer. Alas, a mediocre tee ball that left one hand on the club after impact put him in the right pine straw and he was blocked out from reaching the green in two. A punch out and he was only 25 yards in front of Watson’s drive.
A gap wedge from Watson and a two-putt birdie stretched the lead to three strokes with five holes to play. The door was cracked for a bit of Augusta magic over those last five holes, but solid play, along with a couple Bubba Golf moments and Watson was slipping into his second green jacket in three years about an hour later.
On a day when you would have thought that the final pairing featured Bubba Watson and “20-year-old Jordan Spieth,” the new master of the Masters showed that experience was key around the famed Augusta property. Lest we forget, Spieth hadn’t played in a Masters before this year. All he had was solid tutelage from the likes of Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson, good preparation in the weeks leading to the tournamnt and a game that was better than all but one man when it was all said and done Sunday evening.
While Watson and Spieth separated themselves early in the afternoon on Sunday, others like Jonas Blixt, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Miguel Angel Jimenez kept the pressure on. Blixt and Jimenez were arguably the most impressive.
The 29-year-old Swede and the 50-year-old Spaniard both shot 1-under par 71s under the gauntlet that is the final round of the Masters. Blixt, a little-known grinder who played his college golf at Florida State, has won twice on the PGA Tour although it was the Greenbrier breakthrough that punched his ticket to Augusta.
Not a great driver of the ball, Blixt’s short game was on point and on display all week at Augusta, redeeming loose drives with a deft touch around the greens. Blixt said it was his iron game that held him back, not giving him enough opportunities, but in just his third major championship start he carded his second top-5 finish.
“I love majors,” Blixt said. “I love when it’s tough. It’s not a shootout, so the harder the better.”
The T2 finish grants him entry into next year’s Masters field. At No. 33 in the world, up 23 spots from last week, Blixt should gain entry into the US and British Opens by virtue of a top-50 in the world ranking on May 26. He’s already in the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Jimenez was his usual self: solid. From tee-to-green, or as he calls it, tee-to-flag, and more interesting than anyone else on the grounds, Jimenez again found himself in primetime Sunday afternoon at a major. After making the cut by a stroke on Friday, Jimenez made his move with a Saturday 66 to vault him into contention. A poor front nine on Sunday, coupled with a good back nine earned the Champions Tour rookie the second-highest finish (solo 4th) at a Masters by a player aged 50 or above, bettered only by Sam Snead’s T3 in 1963.
Fowler and Kuchar cemented their top-10s with good Saturday rounds as well — 67 and 68, respectively — but couldn’t get anything going on Sunday, finishing in a two-way tie for fifth.
Lee Westwood hung around all week, shooting rounds no lower than 70 and no higher than 73. The Englishman’s solo 7th-place finish was 17th top-1o in a major, his ninth in the last four years and his fourth in the last five years at the Masters (the other was a T11). Something’s got to give, doesn’t it?
Rory McIlroy, Bernhard Langer, Jimmy Walker, John Senden, Kevin Stadler and Thomas Bjorn made up the eclectic group that rounded out the top-12 players, all tying for eighth place at even par for the championship. McIlroy and Langer were the only past major winners in the group, while Walker, Senden and Stadler were all making their first Masters starts.
The 2014 major season is officially underway and while you got a little piece of everything here, Geoff Shackelford did a nice job rounding up more in-depth pieces on nearly every golfer mentioned above. Pick your guy and find his wrap-up story.
You have more than enough to read today in the aftermath, so how about a preview article of an up-and-coming Bubba Watson. I love these stories that showcase guys before they make it like Damon Hack did for the NY Times in 2006 on Bubba from Bagdad.
The future of the PGA Tour hails from a village called Bagdad, a small town on the Florida panhandle that produced a golfer named Bubba.
Bubba is 6-foot-3, swings left-handed and hits the ball so far that drives byTiger Woods, John Daly and Phil Mickelson may be considered puny in comparison.
And for good measure, a similar piece from Alan Shipnuck on Jordan Spieth, buried in the pages of SI’s Peyton Manning Sportsman of the Year issue from December 2013. Crazy that the up-and-coming story on Spieth came just five months ago.
Spieth (rhymes with teeth) has always been an old soul. He was raised in Dallas to be a Texas gentleman—sir andma’am were built into his vocabulary, and community service was stressed through school and church. He developed a broader perspective at age seven when his sister, Ellie, was born with a neurological disorder and spent her first month in the NICU. Jordan visited her every day. “He saw firsthand how some of those kids never got to go home,” says his father, Shawn. By his teens Spieth was golf’s can’t-miss kid, but he never took himself too seriously because, he says, “in my family it’s never been about me.” He and Ellie have a very sweet, especially close relationship. She attends a school for developmentally disabled kids, and when he was in high school Jordan regularly volunteered in her classrooms. Now that he has gotten his first taste of fame and fortune, he is not shopping for Bugattis but rather talking about setting up a foundation to benefit special-needs children.
Get your tiny violins ready, here’s Tom Rinaldi with Bubba Watson.