Augusta National’s heavenly, evil holes have a history of turning the world’s finest golfers stark raving mad. But some people get a head start. Bubba Watson even admits he is as mad as Alice’s Hatter. And they love him here.
There has been a Tiger Woods-shaped hole at Augusta this year and the patrons have been looking for someone to fill it. Watson, the 2012 champion, was the Chosen One. He finished the first round at three-under par and early yesterday morning his congregation gathered on top of the hill by the first tee and off they marched to worship at the Church of Bubba Golf.
Patience is required to keep one’s sanity among the azaleas and roller-coaster greens and patience is not one of Bubba’s strong points. Twitching and gurning and leaning and contorting his body this way and that as he lunges at the ball like a caveman attacking a pterodactyl, Watson always looks like he’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown. His do-or-die approach to the game merely accentuates his eccentricity. Watching him is like lighting a firework and stepping back to watch it explode or fizzle out.
After a routine opening par, the fun started on the second tee. He lashed at his ball with his trademark pink flamingo driver. The almighty thwack sounded like a trebuchet being fired. His ball soared into the Augusta sky and landed in the perfect spot to attack the green. But those sneaky Green Jackets had placed the flag just a few steps behind a cavernous bunker. It is called a sucker pin position. You’d have to be daft to take it on. Bubba is daft. He took it on and promptly plopped his ball into the sandy grave. Only a par. A birdie chance for Bubba at the third – missed. Another at the fourth – missed. It was enough to turn a man insane. And that’s what Augusta does.
Watson fidgeted in frustration like he had ants in his pants. But he kept his emotions in check. Six pars in a row. Something had to give.
To the surprise of everyone, it was Luke Donald who blew a fuse first. He beat his heart with his fist and smiled in relief as a slippery par putt found the hole at the sixth. But Augusta got him at the seventh. He took two swipes to escape from the bunker in front of the green and smacked his wedge against his bag in anger. For the mild-mannered Englishman, that was the equivalent of road rage.
Meanwhile, “C’mon Sergio, do something”, came a supportive cry from the galleries behind the sixth tee like Dick Dastardly yelling at Muttley. Garcia duly obliged with a birdie at the seventh. Watson, too, bagged a birdie, his first birdie of the day, after another towering approach to another sucker pin position. It proved the turning point. He dropped his first shot of the tournament at the ninth but it spurred him on into a spectacular back nine. There followed birdies at the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th, where he almost had a hole in one. And he has never had a golf lesson in his life. Genius. The tense grimacing of the front nine had been replaced by giddy, goofy grins.
Garcia and Donald finished five over par after two rounds and went in search of a dark room. Watson got a standing ovation after a 68 to be seven under par, and headed to the clubhouse in a shirt that looked like a liquorice allsort.
“I’m trying to get the Green Jacket again,” Watson said. “When I had it, there’s so much you’re doing when you’re defending champ, my mind can’t handle it. It was just overwhelming. I’m coming back with a different mindset, full of energy.”
At the 78th Masters, Bubba is the new Tiger Woods.