Bubba Watson wins Masters in playoff

April 9th, 2012 by Staff

sfgate.com – Augusta, Ga. — In a game rife with conservative thinking and cautious strategy, at a storied club not sure whether to remain stuck in the early 20th century or steam into the 21st, here comes a tall, funky, left-handed golfer with a pink-shafted driver and a penchant for hitting curveballs.

Bubba Watson, Masters champion.

Safe to say, Watson does not fit the mold at Augusta National – because he fits no mold. Witness his mind-bending hook shot out of the woods on Sunday’s second playoff hole, propelling him to victory over Louis Oosthuizen. Or witness the way Watson dissolved into tears after his par cemented the win.

Or witness the parade of fellow tour pros who hiked down to the No. 10 green to watch Watson wrap up his first major championship in the dying light of a gorgeous spring day. Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane and Aaron Baddeley all embraced Watson in warm hugs, a reflection of his popularity among his peers.

“Bubba is as goofy as they come, just a big kid,” Fowler said. “He doesn’t really try to be someone else; he’s not going to do something just to be liked.”

Watson did something to be remembered in a stirring final round. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were long gone, their much-anticipated duel on hold for another day, but Watson and Oosthuizen – along with Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and a dash of Lee Westwood – offered terrific theater.

Watson and Oosthuizen completed four rounds at 10-under, after Watson shot 68 and Oosthuizen rode a double eagle to 69. They each made par on the first playoff hole, No. 18, and then Watson’s par from the trees – combined with Oosthuizen’s bogey – sealed the deal.

The outcome extended golf’s wild free-for-all in recent years, a striking contrast with the Woods-dominated era of 1997 through 2008. Fourteen different players have won the past 14 majors, a streak dating to Padraig Harrington’s 2008 win in the PGA Championship.

No dominator

Woods might win another major one day, but no single player – not Tiger, not Mickelson, not McIlroy – will lord over the game in the coming years the way Woods once did. There are simply too many good players in the mix.

Watson offers a perfect illustration. He stands 6-foot-3 and carries 180 pounds on his lean, broad-shouldered frame. He’s the type of big-time athlete who once steered clear of the stuffy, elitist world of golf, until Woods made it cool to play and brought a wave of strong, long hitters to the fray.

Here’s power: Watson has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on tour in driving distance in each of the past six years. He leads the way this year, with an average of 313.1 yards.

Watson earned his first major win on more than sheer length off the tee. He loves to shape the ball, creatively curving it this way and that, and he embraces the bold, risky shots required to prosper at Augusta National.

He and his caddie, Ted Scott, good-naturedly call it, “Bubba Golf.”

“Truthfully, it’s like Seve (Ballesteros) played – he hit shots that were unbelievable,” Watson said. “Phil hits the shot and goes for broke, and that’s why he wins so many times. He’s not afraid.

“That’s what I do. I just play golf and I always attack. I don’t like to go to the center of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t?”

One for the history books

Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, doesn’t seem like a candidate to hit incredible shots – he’s steady and stoic, almost the anti-Bubba. But little Louis smacked one of the most amazing shots in Masters history Sunday, on No. 2, a 575-yard downhill par-5 bending to the left.

Oosthuizen, a big hitter for his size (5-10, 170), had 253 yards to the hole for his second shot. He smoked a 4-iron onto the front of the green, where the ball caught the slope, turned right, nearly lost steam and finally trickled into the hole.

The roars reverberated throughout most of Georgia. It was the fourth double eagle in Masters history, the first on No. 2 and the first of Oosthuizen’s career. He raised his arms in triumph and abruptly took a two-shot lead.

“The next five holes, it was tough to get my head around it and just play the course,” Oosthuizen said.

He held a two-shot lead over Watson and Peter Hanson at the turn, but several other players lurked – including Mickelson, Kuchar, Westwood and Harrington. That made for a riveting home stretch, full of swaying emotion.

Kuchar’s eagle on No. 15 vaulted him into a tie for the lead, until Oosthuizen made birdie on the same hole (and Kuchar then stumbled with bogey on No. 16). All the while, Watson flew into another realm – stringing together four birdies, from No. 13 through No. 16, to pull even with Oosthuizen.

They stayed even for the final two holes of regulation and the first playoff hole. Watson blinked first, when his next drive drifted left, but he then hit the shot of the tournament – a low, rising hook out of the darkness and onto the green (he had 164 yards to the hole).

Hooked on hook shots

Watson used his gap wedge and estimated he hooked the shot about 40 yards to set up a routine par.

“I told some of the guys, it’s probably better that he had to move the ball rather than hit it straight,” Fowler said.

Or, as Watson said, “I can hit it straight. It’s just easier seeing curves.”

Oosthuizen’s second shot was short, his chip shot ran long and his par putt curled past the hole. And that’s how a true original named Bubba ended up wearing a green jacket at Augusta National.

Final leaderboard

Name Suni Tot
Bubba Watson 68 -10*
Louis Oosthuizen 69 -10
Lee Westwood 68 -8
Phil Mickelson 72 -8
Peter Hanson 73 -8
Matt Kuchar 69 -8
Other notables
Tiger Woods 74 +5
Rory McIlroy 76 +5

* Won on second hole of playoff

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