AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the 50th anniversary of Arnold Palmer’s fourth and final Masters victory, another player who resonates with fans and isn’t afraid to show emotion or show off his risky style took Augusta National Golf Club by storm.
Like Palmer, Bubba Watson captivates the golf world by playing the game his way, which is short on convention and laced with aggressiveness, something the King most certainly appreciates. And like Palmer, Watson is now a multiple winner of the Masters.
With nobody making a serious final-nine run at Watson, robbing the place of the noise and late drama we annually expect, he put it on cruise control Sunday, winning the 78th Masters by three strokes with a dominant round of 3-under-par 69. A pair of 20-something Masters newcomers shared second place. Jordan Spieth is 20, and Jonas Blixt is about to turn 30. On this day, though, they were no match for a 35-year-old lefthander from Bagdad, Fla.
It’s Watson’s second major championship in three seasons, both coming at the Masters. And while there were plenty of differences in stacking the twin victories side by side, the biggest for Watson was also the best. Two years ago, his wife wasn’t here when he won; she was home with the baby boy they were in the process of adopting. On Sunday, Angie Watson placed little Caleb behind the 18th green after Watson’s winning putt dropped. The champion scooped up his son and didn’t let go, slapping fans’ hands and unsuccessfully fighting back tears as he took the walk to sign his scorecard and make his sixth PGA Tour win official.
“It’s overwhelming, to win twice,” Watson said. “A small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets. That’s pretty wild.”
Lacking a singular shot that defined his victory — unlike in 2012, when he somehow carved a wedge from the pine straw and around tall trees to win in a playoff — we’ll highlight two shots this time, which seem to perfectly sum up what separates Watson from everybody else on the PGA Tour.
The first came at the par-5 13th, a short hole that doglegs left and has a creek running down the left side. Watson had just doubled his lead to two shots — he used two-shot swings at both the eighth and ninth to turn a two-stroke deficit into a two-shot lead — after Spieth rinsed his tee shot at the 12th hole and made bogey.
Now, with the long-hitting Watson hitting first off the 13th tee, he sent his ball high and left, a dangerous line not dare taken by anyone else. Few could follow it; not the players, not television cameras. Spieth briefly thought it might open the door for him.
“I thought that it was out of bounds,” Spieth said. “[Instead] it’s perfect. His drive on 13, I’ll never forget.”
The drive measured 366 yards, leaving Watson just a sand wedge for his second shot, which he knocked onto the green. A two-putt birdie gave him a commanding three-shot lead, and he made five straight pars from there.
The drive on No. 13 served as a prime example of Watson’s raw skill, something few others can claim. But it was Watson’s second shot to the 15th hole that best describes his mentality. With his drive pushed to the left behind some trees, Watson could have played a safe second shot, laying up in front of the lake guarding the green and then knocking his third shot on, still giving himself an excellent look at birdie on the par 5.
Instead, Watson noticed a gap in the trees and ripped a 6-iron right through, the shot carrying the water and going over the green. That kind of risky play, if not executed properly, could have meant a big number and perhaps the loss of his three-shot lead.
For Watson, the decision was easy.
“I knew I could cut it. Hit a low 6-iron, choked up, and just cut it,” he said. “It was a shot I was trying to hit into the bunker. But you know me, I was trying to get it a little closer to the pin, so I cut it a little bit without telling my caddie I was going to do that.”
And what was that caddie’s reaction?
“That’s Bubba golf,” said Ted Scott, who has been on Watson’s bag for eight years now.
Bubba golf isn’t all that difficult to describe. It’s just rare.
“There’s no one else that can really play the way he does. It’s his own style, for sure, and this place happens to suit him quite well,” said Rickie Fowler, who shot 73 and tied for fifth. “I can’t shape a ball as much as he can, it’s just not possible for me to hit as big of a draw or as big of a cut as he can. I don’t have that same speed. It’s a special week for him, he got the best of all of us.”
Watson became the 17th player to win more than one Masters. It’s a remarkable collection of talent, and some of the biggest names in golf history: Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Mickelson, Woods.
Watson is the newest member of the club, and he has his work cut out: 15 of the other 16 are in the World Golf Hall of Fame (Tiger Woods, who missed this year’s Masters after back surgery, is the lone exception, because he hasn’t been eligible to be voted into the Hall yet).
“The team I have around me, we’ve always thought that I’ve had the talent. I’ve always done it my way,” Watson said. “We’ve always felt like I could play golf at a high level. But then to actually do it is the hard part. It’s overwhelming.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.