Masters 2014: Bubba Watson talent and tenacity proves he is much more than a simple caricature

The American won his second Green Jacket on Sunday

Augusta National

Next year’s champions dinner could be interesting. Bubba Watson celebrated his second Masters victory in a Waffle House with his wife and friends. Since the tradition began in 1952, when Ben Hogan first hosted the former winners, waffles are not known to have featured on the menu. Maybe Watson couldn’t get in T-Bonz Steakhouse on Washington Road. Or perhaps this was just another day in Bubbaland.

The tendency has been to dismiss Watson as a Florida backwoodsman. The waffle fits neatly into that stereotype. Project that on to the course and he becomes a golfer of the “rip it and grip it” variety. Watson does give it a fearsome bash, but there is subtlety in his hands and strategy in his thinking, neither of which fits the crude packaging of Bubba the primate.

His handling of the storm that was 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who opened up a two-shot advantage early on Sunday, revealed a man in possession of himself. He allowed the tempest to blow itself out. The 366-yard drive at the climax to Amen Corner, the par-five 13th, was both signature swipe and deciding blow, his left-handed fade tracing the line of the dogleg like a dialled-in missile. It left him a gap wedge to the green, the same one he used to knife Louis Oosthuizen in the play-off two years ago.

Spieth was by now almost a forgotten man rummaging for his ball among the pine needles to the right of the fairway. With five to play Watson was three strokes to the good, an advantage he maintained all the way to the tap-in for par on the 18th that secured his second Green Jacket.

 

The scenes on the 18th had echoes of his first triumph without the intensity. From an emotional perspective this was Bubba-lite, an evolved version of the same specimen, matured to a point where control is achievable as long as he gulps enough air before he speaks.

His adopted son Caleb had been his for only seven days two years ago. Here he toddled towards his father on the green, a diversion gratefully embraced, for it allowed Watson to be a dad as opposed to a crumbling wreck. “You play a little golf today?” he  asked Caleb, the small talk drying what tears remained on the way to the Butler Cabin.

The victory speech was comparatively contained compared to two years ago. Yes there were folksy elements: “Like I said, a guy named Bubba from a small town, born in Pensacola, Florida, raised in Bagdad, it’s crazy to think that you’ve won.” But no mentions of God, which was either a departure or an oversight.

His first Masters win overwhelmed him. “It took me a while to adjust. Learning to be a dad and learning to have a Green Jacket is two big things to adjust to,” he said.

He took a month off in 2012, retreated to the bosom of his young family. This time the family comes with him. “We got him [his son] at a month old. I had to be there for my son. And so golf was the farthest thing from my mind,” he said. “This one is different. My schedule is probably not going to change. So everything’s the same. We are trying to make the Ryder Cup. We are trying to win the next tournament.”

So, with this victory Watson announces himself as a player of real substance. His victory at Augusta was also notable for its mastery of a course that historically has favoured a draw, the fundamental tool of right handers. Watson’s left-handed fade, just like three-time winner Phil Mickelson’s before him, replicated that shape of shot, contributing to the statistical quirk of left-handers claiming six of the past 12 victories. More significant is this stat: Watson joins Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, Palmer, Faldo, Woods and Mickelson as a player who has become a two-time Masters winner  within a three-year span.

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