AUGUSTA, Ga. –
Sometimes, winning a golf tournament or putting on a green jacket can change a guy’s life.
Bubba Watson insists he’s not that guy.
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Steve Stricker began 2012 as the highest-ranked American, but was replaced by Hunter Mahan after his win at Bay Hill. Now new Masters champ Bubba Watson has become the third player to hold the distinction of highest-ranked American this season.
Maybe that explains his ability to pull off the impossible when the pressure was boiling over at the Masters on Sunday.
Perched atop pine needles far right of the fairway with a better view of a TV tower than the green, the left-hander hooked his way out of trouble and into history. His 155-yard curveball landed on the green and beat South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of a playoff and turned Oosthuizen’s double eagle earlier in the round into the second-best shot on a day filled with magic at Augusta National.
While Oosthuizen failed to get up and down from in front of the green, Watson wrapped it up with a no-stress two-putt on the 10th green to clinch his first major, then sobbed hard on his mother’s shoulder.
Amazingly, Watson became the 14th different winner in the last 14 majors, and the eighth in a row who had never won one before. Watson’s win moves him up to No. 4 in the world ranking, a jump of 12 spots from his previous perch at No. 16. This marks Watson’s first appearance in the world top 10.
The top three spots remained in the same hands, with No. 1 Luke Donald, No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Lee Westwood holding their ground. Hunter Mahan drops from fourth to fifth to make way for Watson, and Steve Stricker slips from fifth to sixth.
Martin Kaymer, who beat Watson in a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship, slides from sixth to seventh place, while Tiger Woods goes from seventh to eighth. Phil Mickelson moves up into ninth form his previous spot at No. 14, and Justin Rose moves from ninth to 10th.
The second 10 include No. 11 Adam Scott, No. 12 Charl Schwartzel, No. 13 Webb Simpson, No. 14 Matt Kuchar, No. 15 Graeme McDowell, No. 16 Jason Day, No. 17 Dustin Johnson, No. 18 Bill Haas, No. 19 Oosthuizen and No. 20 Keegan Bradley. Oosthuizen had been 27th.
Watson’s celebration was bittersweet. His father, Gerry, died 18 months ago after a long bout with cancer. But waiting at home for him is his wife, Angie, and their adopted newborn son, Caleb.
“The thing is, golf is not my everything,” Watson said. “But for me to come out here and win, it’s awesome for a week and then we get back to real life. I haven’t changed a diaper yet, so I’m probably going to have to change a diaper soon.”
Watson insists the shot that earned him the Green Jacket wasn’t as ridiculously hard as it looked. Mostly because of his attitude. He hasn’t taken formal lessons and insists he has never hit a ball perfectly straight. His motto, as he explained to caddie Ted Scott on the day they met six years ago: “If I have a swing, I have a shot.”
So when he blocked the tee shot on No. 10 into the woods, behind the gallery, onto the pine straw, way back in jail, he felt no sense of panic.
“I get down there, saw it was a perfect draw,” Watson said. “Even though the tower was in my way, I didn’t want to ask if I could get relief or anything, because it just set up for a perfect draw — well, hook. That’s what we did. We just kept talking about you never know what’s going to happen out here. Anything can happen.”
Can and pretty much did on this day.
The excitement started with a pair of holes-in-1 on No. 16 by Adam Scott and Bo Van Pelt, each of whom was playing for position, not the championship.
The fireworks really started when the leaders got on the course.
Standing on the fairway, 253 yards from the hole on the par-5 second, Oosthuizen hit a 4-iron that bounced on the front of the green, then rolled toward a cup that looked like it had a magnet in it. The ball dropped and the South African was the owner of the fourth double-eagle 2 in Masters history and the first on the second hole—to say nothing of a two-shot lead that moments earlier had been a one-shot deficit.
He held that lead for most of the day, but realized as the round went on that there’s nowhere else to go after you’ve touched the sun.
“When something like that happens early in your round, you think that this is it,” Oosthuizen said. “That was my first double eagle ever. So it was tough. It was tough the next five holes to just get my head around it and just play the course.”
He played it solidly, if not spectacularly, and finished at 10-under 278.
Watson, meanwhile, saved his charge for where they usually come at Augusta National — the back nine on Sunday. He made a tricky 6-foot putt on No. 13 to start a string of four straight birdies. The fourth one put him in a tie for the lead and the leaders, in the same twosome, finished par-par to set up the first playoff at Augusta since Angel Cabrera of Argentina won in 2009.
Watson is the fifth left-hander to don a Green Jacket over the last 10 years and gives Americans back-to-back majors — Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship — after they’d gone a record six straight without.
This one will be celebrated back home in Florida, with little Caleb in his arms and his father in his thoughts.
“He’d say, `You still need to practice. You missed that fairway. You were under the trees a couple of times. You missed the first putt,”’ Watson said with a smile. “No, he would be excited. Just like my mom was excited. We didn’t have any words. We just cried in each other’s arms.”