AUGUSTA, Ga. - A day that began with a bang ended with a bawling Bubba. In between was some of the most riveting golf you could ever imagine. Look away, even for a minute, and you stood to miss something magical.
If the Masters has taught us anything, it’s to assume nothing and expect the unexpected, for that truly seems to be the tournament’s tradition, unlike any other. Sunday is the latest example, an epic masterpiece that included two aces, a double eagle, a meltdown by golf’s most popular player, and enough drama and suspense to fill a bestseller.
In the end, it featured an unconventional, long-hitting lefthander with a pink driver pulling off the shot of his life. Unable to see the 10th green because he was well right of the fairway with his drive, Bubba Watson wrapped a wedge from 155 yards around a few of the towering pines at Augusta National Golf Club, hooking the risky shot and waiting for the crowd’s reaction to tell him how good it was. It was much better than good, settling 10 feet away and setting up a two-putt par, enough to beat Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of their sudden-death playoff.
Oosthuizen made history with a double eagle on No. 2, a Masters first. But Watson, who played his college golf up the road in Athens, ended up as the top dog.
“I’ve never had a dream go this far, so I can’t even say it’s a dream come true,’’ said Watson, who shot 68 and finished regulation play at 10 under. “Somehow it fell into my hands today. It was a blur; the last nine holes I don’t remember anything.
“As an athlete, as a golfer, this is the Mecca, to put on this green jacket. It’s what everybody strives to do.’’
Watson never led until holing his short putt to win, the fourth victory on tour and first major championship. When it went in, he embraced longtime caddie Ted Scott - they’ve been together since the 2006 Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston - and was quickly joined on the green by his mother, Mollie. His wife, Angie, and their new son, Caleb, whom they adopted two weeks ago, were watching from home.
“I got down there, saw it was a perfect draw, a perfect hook. [Scott] said, ‘If you’ve got a swing, you’ve got a shot.’ I hit my gap wedge, hooked it about 40 yards. Pretty easy,’’ Watson said. “I just play golf. I attack. I always attack. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t?’’
Watson supplied the cheers, and the tears, but so many others contributed in making it one of the greatest Sundays in Masters history.
None more than Oosthuizen, strictly for historical value. His albatross on No. 2 came from 253 yards out, setting off a roar that could be felt everywhere on the property. He ripped a 4-iron down the hill, the ball landing on the front of the green and then riding the slope all the way to the far-right hole location, dropping softly into the cup. Combined with a bogey from third-round leader Peter Hanson on No. 1, the deuce gave Oosthuizen a two-shot lead. He never fell out of first place until losing the tournament, joined briefly by Matt Kuchar (whose bogey on the 16th ultimately did him in) and then Watson.
“When something like that happens early in your round, you think that this is it. That was my first double eagle ever,’’ Oosthuizen said. “It was tough the next five holes to just get my head around it and just play the course. You know, I don’t feel like I could have hit two better putts in the playoff. So, it’s a hard day, but congrats to Bubba. He did brilliantly.’’
Watson caught Oosthuizen with four straight birdies, starting on No. 13. When he dropped a 6-footer on the 16th, he found himself tied with his playing partner at 10 under, where they remained. Watson had two earlier chances to win: He missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72d hole, then missed an 8-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole at the 18th hole. The third time, despite it not looking promising when he pulled his drive into the trees, was the charm.
For all the great play, a triple bogey resonated just as loudly. Phil Mickelson had just one stumble on Sunday, but it was catastrophic.
Two shots back after Oosthuizen’s albatross and a pair of early bogeys by Hanson, Mickelson pushed his tee shot on the par-3 fourth left of the grandstand and into a thicket of shrubs and trees. He found his ball, barely advanced it with two righthanded swings, dumped his fourth in a bunker, and ultimately made a 6. No Masters champion has ever won with a triple bogey on the scorecard; Mickelson ended his weekend with two (10th hole, first round).
“It happens. You know, it happens out here,’’ Mickelson said. “I look at the triple on 10, that was obviously a bad swing. But I wouldn’t have done anything different on 4. It’s disappointing that I didn’t grab that fourth green jacket. It’s disappointing that I didn’t make it happen on the back nine.’’
Mickelson couldn’t make the necessary charge, but Watson did.
Charl Schwartzel’s four closing birdies won here a year ago. Watson’s four-pack didn’t end the tournament, but prolonged it. On a day that featured a little bit of everything, extra holes seemed entirely appropriate, because there was one more fateful swing that needed to be made.
A lefthander is once again the Masters champion, just not the one most people expected. Watson’s fine with that. He’s too busy trying to remember all the shots he pulled off that somehow placed him in the green jacket.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.