When the right side of the brain connects with the left and the inner voice is silent Bubba Watson is unstoppable, at least in the company of a 20-year-old boy on the back nine of the Masters.
Watson had to withstand a youthful burst on the front nine, falling two behind inside the opening three holes but a four-shot swing in two holes to the turn followed by a trial by fire through Amen Corner saw the hopes of Jordan Spieth cremated and Watson spraying tears on the green jacket for the second time in three years.
Spieth did not have to win to steal the hearts of America. The narrative is already steeped in romance when a blond kid from Texas marches on to the first tee in the last group with a shot at erasing Tiger Woods from Masters lore as the youngest winner.
When said boy sprays the tee shot at the second and still makes a birdie, splashes out of the sand at the fourth for another, and responds to a bogey at the fifth with a hat-trick of strikes against par a sense that his destiny might be in the hands of a higher authority takes hold. And that is not a difficult leap to make in the southern states.
It is a given for Spieth, a devout Christian and enthusiastic attendee at bible groups on the PGA Tour, that his hand is guided from above. The problem is that Watson, too, is a believer and had the same claims on the beneficence of the creator. On this day the force was with Watson, returning a 69 to win by three strokes. But what a fright Spieth gave him.
The last day of the Masters ordinarily presents a clash of priorities, those needing to chase the leaders and those looking to preserve what they have. Spieth and Watson were fortunate in that none had advanced beyond them when they went to the first tee. In the event that did not factor in to their thinking. Both were at it from the gun.
Spieth was obviously feeling the nerves, pulling his opening tee shot left among the trees separating the first and ninth fairways. Luckily for him he found an open door between the trunks and threaded the ball on to the green.
Watson was not much better placed having found sand off the tee, but like his playing partner fashioned a stunning recovery to finish pin high. Spieth was left again at the second and Watson was in another trap. The par-five grading helped sufficiently to yield a birdie for Spieth to give him the outright lead on six under par.
Spieth held the crowd enthralled with his second birdie at the par-3 fourth, scoring a direct hit from the front bunker. Watson birdied, too, but he was answering a bogey at the third and momentarily stood two shots adrift after starting the round level.
Spieth is neither long off the tee nor particularly demonstrative in any part of his game, but his temperament is of the rock hard variety. It beggars belief that a slip of a lad his age might begin to manage the mental and physical demands that come with leading the Masters, especially when the field fights back.
After his three-birdie sprint from the sixth to the eighth Spieth saw his advantage wiped with the kind of two-shot swing that defines Masters Sunday and destroys lesser beings. A bogey at eight was matched by a birdie from Watson. All square at seven under par going up the ninth.
We recall how the same challenge destroyed a 21-year-old Rory McIlory three years ago. How would Spieth respond? Watson turned the screw curling in a birdie putt to reach the turn eight under par. Spieth was short with his approach and made a second successive bogey. From two-up after seven he was suddenly two down going to the tenth. How tortuous this game can be. From a position of strength in the middle of the fairway, Watson yanked his approach unforgivably long to give back a shot. Spieth made his par to reduce the deficit to one with eight to play. There was no telling when Spieth piped his best tee shot of the day down the 11th how this would end.
This was, of course, the entry to Amen Corner, that hallowed stretch of pine-clad drama along the southern perimeter of Augusta National. Pars for both at the first hurdle led them to Sunday’s great arbiter, the middle hurdle of three that has decided many a fate, the 155-yard 12th.
A groan echoed around the bleachers when Spieth’s tee shot crashed into the creek to the front. Watson found the putting surface to escape with a par. Spieth did brilliantly to limit the damage with a 12-footer for bogey but another shot had gone.
Watson was monster long off the 13th tee smashing his ball 366 yards down the fairway. Spieth was in the pine needles. It was not so much falling apart as failing to keep up. Spieth made his par but it was not enough after Watson walked off the green with a birdie to reach eight under par and extend his lead to three.
And that is how it remained. Jonas Blixt joined Spieth on five under with a birdie at 13th but no-one was laying a glove on Watson. Miguel Angel Jimenez was unable to build on the bonhomie of Saturday. Three birdies coming home to reach four under and claim fourth place were more decoration after a disappointing outward nine.
Lee Westwood never quite got going. He shipped three strokes at the third and fourth holes. What began as a three-shot deficit to the leaders moved out to seven. It was a long road back from there. A birdie at the last was some comfort giving him a 73 and a tie for seventh place.
Sandy Lyle closed his 100th round at the Masters with a one over par 73 to finish nine over. Lyle, the first Briton to triumph here, received his jacket from Mize in 1988. “I had no idea I had played that many. Hopefully I’ll be back for many more,” he said.Reuse content