Masters winner Bubba Watson, left, has 2013 winner Adam Scott present him with his green jacket after winning the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta on Sunday. (Reuters/Mike Blake)
The 2014 Masters
Bubba Watson pulls away for his second Masters championship on Sunday, Apr. 13.
AUGUSTA — As jittery as Bubba Watson looked in losing a big lead in Saturday’s third round of the 2014 Masters, the former Georgia standout was completely composed in Sunday’s final round at Augusta National.
Watson fired a 3-under par 69 to pull away from youngster Jordan Spieth, fellow first-time entry Jonas Blixt and a host of others in a crowded leaderboard to take the title, and his second green jacket in three years, with a final card of 8-under 280.
The three-shot win over Spieth and Blixt was far less dramatic than his playoff win over Louis Oosthuizen in 2012, which was made possible by his now-famous shot out of the pine straw on the second extra hole.
But it was just as satisfying to Watson, if not more.
“No, I loved it a lot better,” Watson joked when asked if he felt guilty about robbing the tournament of any drama down the stretch. “The shot out of the woods made me famous, but this one was a lot better for me and my nerves, (and) my family.”
Watson took most of the drama out of the end result by the time he made the turn, and certainly after coming out of Amen Corner.
But early on, it appeared youth and inexperience would not hinder Spieth in his first Sunday at Augusta National.
After matching 54-hole co-leader Watson with a skillful up-and-down for par at the first hole, the 20-year-old Texan, who was out to try to become the youngest winner in Masters history, followed with a birdie at No. 2 to take the lead outright at 6-under par.
Then, after Matt Kuchar briefly joined him at the top of the leaderboard with back-to-back birdies at 2 and 3 — the latter of which was a chip in from off the green — Spieth seemed to grab momentum at the par-3 fourth.
He blasted out of a front bunker and in for a birdie at the par-3 fourth just after Kuchar had four-putted for double bogey in the group ahead of him and Watson to take a two-shot lead at 7-under par.
“I went over to the first tee and got off to kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta,” Spieth said. “It’s just so hard to play the first seven holes, I would say, well out here, and I was 3-under through the first seven. So, if you told me that when I woke up (Sunday) morning, I would have thought, ‘You know, it would be difficult for me to not win this golf tournament.”
But after birdies at holes 6 and 7 kept the lead at two shots, a pair of two-stroke swings towards Watson turned Spieth’s dream start into a nightmare.
First, Watson hit a 5-iron from the fairway just over the green on the par-5 eighth hole before chipping up-and-down for birdie, while Spieth came up short on his approached and bogeyed, leaving both players at 7-under.
Then, the Windmere, Fla., resident hit a huge drive off the and knocked a 56-degree sand wedge pin high before rolling in his third birdie in a four-hole stretch to finish off the front nine.
Spieth, meanwhile, bogeyed again to vault Watson into a two-shot lead at 8-under as the last group made the turn.
“Eight and nine were really the turning point(s) where momentum kind of went my way,” Watson said. “Then, in the group in front of us and other groups, you could just tell. Just nobody really caught fire.”
True, any potential challengers were falling off the pace one-by-one.
First was Kuchar, whose early back-to-back birdies were nullified by his four-putt double bogey at 4, and while the former Georgia Tech standout got as close as three shots twice, he never really regained his rhythm and wound up carding a 2-over 74 to finish the tournament tied for fifth at 2-under.
“I knew (in) golf you have ups and downs,” Kuchar said. “Those things happen. I can’t recall the last time I four-putted. … And all of the sudden, you walk off with a double bogey.”
Blixt birdied 13 to get to 5-under and within two of the lead at one point, but would get no closer.
If the swings at 8 and 9 weren’t enough to help Watson put Spieth away, the next one that occurred at 12 and 13 did.
After a bogey on 10 shaved his lead to one stroke and identical pars by Watson and Spieth at 11, both players in the final pairing got into trouble with errant tee shots on the par-3 12th.
But Watson’s shot from the back right rough was a far more enviable position than Spieth had after sending a 9-iron into Rae’s Creek.
While Spieth was able to get up-and-down following the drop for a bogey, Watson sent a nice chip to within 2 1/2 feet and tapped in for par to stretch his lead back to two strokes.
“Yeah, 12 is tough,” Spieth said. “I’m still not sure if you play it the Gary Player way and just try and take as much — to where, if you hit it, great, you just barley fly the bunker. I thought I had a good number (club). There was just no wind at all. It should have been a touch into us.
“I guess I got a little too aggressive over the ball, played a little bit of a fade instead of just hitting that straight one over the bunker, and it caught whatever, couple-mile-an-hour breeze was up there, and made a big difference.”
Both players’ tee shots then proved key again on the par-5 13th, as Speith sent his far to the right into the pine straw and wound up with a par.
Meanwhile, Watson bombed his into the fairway only 140 yards away from the green despite clipping a tree, reached the green in two and two-putted for birdie to move to 8-under and a whopping three-stroke lead over Spieth and Blixt, and he wouldn’t be seriously challenged the rest of the way.
“I knew it, when it took off, it was cutting a little too much,” Watson said of his tee shot on 13. “I knew I hit it really hard. Obviously, when you get a roar on your tee shot, you know it’s pretty good. I could start breathing again once I hear them clapping and roaring.”