Bubba Carves Way to Masters Title.

Bubba Watson Dodged an Albatross.

When the Masters started, it was supposed to be a three man race.  The top of the field was so clearly delineated by Tiger, Rory and Phil that imagining a different outcome was difficult.  If last year’s tournament was a wide-open sprint at the finish, this year’s was going to be a four-day heavyweight battle.  Golf rarely plays to a script, though, and over the last three years the history books are dotted with far more first time winners than repeat major champions.  By Saturday afternoon, Mickelson was the only favorite still with a chance to win the tournament and he became the overwhelming favorite.  When Peter Hanson bogeyed the first hole, you expected Phil would never relinquish the lead, but then Louis Oosthuizen  holed out from 260 yards and the tournament was dumped on its head.

Oosthuizen’s incredible shot not only vaulted him into the lead, it removed the sense of inevitability that was forming early Sunday afternoon.  Phil Mickelson was coming off a back nine 30 on Saturday, Peter Hanson didn’t appear up to the task of holding the lead, so without Oosthuizen’s shot a challenger hadn’t announced himself.  When Louis vaulted to 10-under, though, I think it breathed life into the whole field.  OK, we’re not just waiting around to hand Phil another green jacket.

The other definitive shot was Mickelson’s errant and unlucky grandstand missile on the fourth.  So often the crowd and grandstands bail out guys on Tour, but this time it was a violent bounce that sent Mickelson into an unplayable situation and set him up for a triple bogey.  It threw Mickelson five shots behind Oosthuizen and from that point on, the entire field was in a race to get to 10-under–the number Oosthuizen hit on the 2nd hole.  The affable and unflappable Oosthuizen who when he is on (an every other year occurrence apparently) is very difficult to beat played a conservative brand of golf over the last 16 holes that allowed some others to make a run.

Matt Kuchar was around, Lee Westwood’s rally ended at 8-under par, Phil couldn’t summon a back nine eagle to kick-start his charge and that left Bubba Watson as Oosthuizen’s only competition.  To his credit, Watson waited for the right time to push, starting the run on the par-5 13th and running off four straight birdies after a bogey on 12.  Oosthuizen and Watson setup the playoff and closed the door on the rest of the field with pressure packed pars on the 17th and 18th holes.

Oosthuizen nailed a testy five footer to get into the playoff and then looked to have it won on the 1st playoff hole, but his putt impossibly slid by the edge.  They moved onto the 10th, a hole that has an uncanny ability to settle playoffs.  Bubba drove first into the right trees, opening the door for Oosthuizen, but he couldn’t take advantage and followed Bubba to the right trees.  When you saw Oosthuizen’s ball had come back into play and Bubba was buried at the end of a pine straw corridor, the prospects for Watson became bleak once again.  Oosthuizen was well back, though, and couldn’t make the green with his second.  It set up what might become the most famous hook in Masters history.

Watson, known for his ability to shape the ball and curve it enormous distances took advantage of a space in the pines to snap hook his second onto the green.  Without the benefit of an overhead camera shot, it was hard to envision exactly how much Watson had curved his second, but the way the ball reacted on the green proved that Watson had given it every ounce of hook he had.  I imagine the shot had to fluster Oosthuizen a bit, or at least deflate him.  His 3rd ran well past the hole and when his par putt scorched the edge again, Bubba’s win became a mere formality.

The only thing left were Bubba’s signature tears as he remains, along with Steve Stricker, one of the most emotional winners on Tour whether he captures a Major or the Hartford Open.  The win appeared to be incredibly popular with the Masters galleries, and Oosthuizen was gracious in defeat.  The tournament started as a three man race, ended in a two man playoff, but as always provided the proper drama.

For closing thoughts, the question is the same we’ve faced many times over the last couple of years–how is Bubba going to follow up his Major?  The same has been asked of Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Kaymer, Bradley and McIlroy.  When these guys are on top form it looks like they’ll easily win four or five majors.  Especially Kaymer and McIlroy, who at different times have been crowned as the next big thing, but to this point winning a 2nd major has proven to be an incredibly difficult task for all of them.  The depth of these fields is remarkable and it’s contributing to the variety of winners we’ve gotten, but you also have to wonder if some sense of complacency and relief comes with that first major.

As disappointing a week as it was for Tiger Woods, I think it may have been even more so for Rory McIlroy.  Tiger never threatened.  He was off his game all week, and while this is a setback, he didn’t waste a chance to win.  McIlroy did.  Rory’s rise up the leaderboard on Friday felt significant.  Especially with Jason Dufner and Fred Couples on top, you could argue that McIlroy held the true lead heading into the weekend, but by the time the coverage started on Saturday, Rory had already gone up in a puff of smoke and double bogeys.  Paired with Sergio, the two tried to out-ugly each other and they both quickly ended their chances of wearing the green jacket.  McIlroy seemed at ease with his fate after the round on Saturday, shrugging off his implosion as no big deal.  And, it might not be, but the longer Rory goes without picking up a Masters or validating his tremendous hype the more difficult things are likely to get.  I imagine we’ll eventually see the end of jovial McIlroy after weekend 76s at Majors.

Moving forward, I have a feeling that by the time the US Open rolls around in June, we’ll be back to focusing on Tiger, Phil and Rory.  And then when the play starts at Olympic we’ll get comfortable with a whole new cast of contenders one of whom will probably emerge to win their 1st Major.

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21 thoughts on “Bubba Carves Way to Masters Title.

  1. I really have been unable to get a true sense of just how much that shot hooked, except (1) his line of play was at that fairway bunker in the middle of nowhere (2) I don’t think I have ever seen a ball spin quite like that on the green before, and (3) this was done with a gap wedge? How do you hook a gap wedge?

  2. Bubba estimated it at 40 yards of hook. I think the shot from behind Bubba actually made it look more difficult. That’s a relative term. Obviously it was impossible, but it looked even more so from behind him when all you could see was the people.

    I don’t know how you hook a wedge that much with this ball, that’s some serious hand action.

  3. How far in advance do you think Nantzy had his post-Bubba victory putt lines planned? Was it just me, or did he seem like he was actually reading that line about a new Watson winning a jacket?

  4. I was talking a lot about Nantzy with the people I was watching with and our consensus was that all his material was Mickelson oriented. To channel Nantz for a second, he put all his eggs in the Mickelson basket on this Easter. So, I think he was scrambling and probably was scribbling some things down during the playoff. The another Watson line is pretty awful and was clearly premeditated.

    You know, Nantz’s famous “The Bear Has Come out of Hibernation” line actually appears in Dan Jenkins’ Dead Solid Perfect which came out in the 70s. Knowing that Nantz is a golf dork, there’s almost no way he didn’t read that book prior to ’86. And yet he’s always taken credit for it, saying, he originally thought he was sure someone had said it before (or written it, Nantzy) but then everyone afterward told him he totally nailed it!

  5. I will say I enjoyed Faldo’s assessment of Hanson on the fourth green/fifth tee, when he basically said that he could tell from Hanson’s body language that he had been in utter effing horseface since the moment he woke up that morning and had no chance of winning.

  6. Guys like Faldo, well most announcers really I think want to make everything seem supremely difficult. Like, you see how hard this is and I still won it three times?

    That said, no doubt Hanson was totally in over his head and I generally love all discussion of people choking.

  7. Do you think there’s anything to the pairings relative to how guys play? I heard phil on saturday cheering vjiay on (“c’mon vijay let’s go”) on the 17th or 18th tee when phil was having his big round. Rory and sergio “couple buckled” on saturday…..just curious if there’s anything to who you’re paired with that affects your game. And if so, I’d imagine playing with MAJ round one would be disconcerting.

  8. I think it matters. I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that Oosthuizen and Watson were in the same pairing, feeding off each other.

  9. I think pairings matter sometimes. Some guys are easy to play with. Fred has this reputation, but obviously it didn’t help Dufner this weekend, but Phil probably would have loved it, generally because I think Fred is friendly, not too intense and also hits the ball solid (has great tempo) so it’s not hard to watch.

    Some of the best rounds I ever played in college were when I got paired with someone on my team and that’s a terrible example, but it says something about comfort level.

    I think Phil is another good guy to play with probably, and I think the “encouraging” is something that probably happens more than you think–especially if its not the last round or if they’re back in the pack. Let’s see who can make more birdies on the way in, or something.

    As far as the couple buckle, I’m not sure if bad golf is as contagious. I guess you could argue it’s distracting, and misery loves company?

    In general, I think most of these guys are used to playing with someone they don’t know, like Hanson didn’t impact Phil either way I don’t think. But, they probably also have a handful of guys they are more friendly with–aside from Tiger who I don’t think really talks to anyone out there. He’s been challenged and seen guys buckle around him for years, so I don’t think we can put this one on MAJ.

  10. Yeah i wasn’t putting it on MAJ, I was just joking around but overall i could see pairings being worth a stroke or two one way or the other. I mean, if you birdie some hole and want to keep momentum, tee off and stripe one on the next hole then your playing partner ducks one into the trees, spends 10 minutes trying to find it, another 10 discussing it, then hacks away only to have the next shot b/c he didn’t get out or had to punch out, I’d imagine that would bust your momentum and concentration a little.

  11. Love the term couple buckle. Will use it as much as possible.

    I don’t know how these guys play 5.5 hour rounds. That’s what amazes me the most. The first time a guy talked to his caddy about a shot for 3 minutes I’d lose my mind.

  12. What about when Phil waited for the wind to get to his liking????? What would you do to a guy pulling that on the tee box

  13. yeah, i thought that was a bit excessive. I mean, where do you draw the line? one minute? two? four? The problem is, almost everyone plays so slow so you’re rarely getting pushed from behind and often are actually waiting to hit shots, especially on par 3s. that’s ridiculous for tour pros playing threesomes in 10-12 minute intervals.

  14. by the way, someone at Grantland today figured out Phil Mickelson takes ridiculous chances on the golf course. Man, I didn’t realize that watching the first 20 years of his career.

  15. well, fade to black seems a bit harsh. he finished 12th.

    on thursday I said I didn’t really think he had a chance to win again, and I do believe that, though Friday really pulled me in and will likely be my favorite golf day of the year regardless of what happens from here on out.

    it was disappointing that he couldn’t stick around a little longer. he’s the only player that really makes me feel like a fan, like I would feel watching a playoff hockey game or something. and, I don’t get that very often watching golf, so I was pretty pissed he started so poorly on Saturday.

    sometimes I think he self-sabotages. He missed short putts at 2, 4 and 5 to immediately blow up. Then he hit the ball absolutely beautifully for about 8 holes, including almost flying it into the hole on 12. He got back to 4-under, the fringes of contention again (he was t-5 at that point I think) but then couldn’t birdie 13 and inexplicably tried for the green at 15 from almost 260 and hit it in the water. He’s 4 back of Mickelson at that point, if he lays it up, makes a birdie and steals one at 16-18 he’s right there, but instead he bogeys and that was pretty much it.

    but the guy’s 52. his Champion’s Tour rival Bernie Langer shot 80 on Friday and missed the cut, so I have to appreciate that he still contends and makes it interesting. He’s got 3 straight top 15s at 50, 51, and 52. That’s pretty remarkable, I think, even with the improved technology, etc.

    When he almost won in 2006 (still the best ball-striking week I’ve ever seen), I thought that if he got out on the CT and started winning it might help him at Augusta. Well, that hasn’t really been the case. He hasn’t been able to translate that success into keeping it together at Augusta for 4 days.

  16. I didn’t mention anything about Fred here on Friday because I was operating under the “no talking during a no hitter” rule. That’s how exciting his Friday was to me.

  17. yeah, it was a cool afternoon. one of the media people, maybe chamblee or nobilo noted how happy Fred looked after the round, said it looked like he had won the tournament walking off 18 and not acting like it was just Friday. I’m sure there was some truth to that and it was tough to get settled for round 3.

  18. I just think he can’t keep concentration together while also fighting off i assume significant fatigue/pain from being a senior citizen for 4 days. That third day he’s probably hurting pretty bad, and it takes all his concentration just to swing the club so he makes mental mistakes.

    At least, that’s my story and i’m sticking to it.

  19. yeah, he claimed to be feeling pretty good this year, but I imagine fatigue is a factor. I think it’s more mental, though.

    you can play golf for so long, it really lets you build up a lot of scar tissue.

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