The Masters: Bubba Watson bounces on as a popular warm-up act

Watson shed tears when he won last year but he drew roars of admiration from the throng with a bold show of defiance


So the dude with the red shirt made it to the weekend after all. That's Bubba Watson of course. The defending champion bounced on to the first tee in that Tigger way of his sporting the classic red shirt and black trousers, copyright Tiger Woods, 1997 Masters. It was a delicious statement of irony and no doubt a deliberate wardrobe choice by the mischievious Watson.

He scraped into the third round on the cut-mark at four over par and set off at pace in the first group of the day at the back of the field accompanied by an Augusta National Golf Club member playing as a marker.

The crowd that followed him was huge. Only at the Masters, where tickets are protected like family heirlooms, can the first player of the day, 10 shots behind the leader, be greeted by a throng that most regular tournaments cannot muster for the final group of the day. On an electric blue-sky morning, the beautiful and the wealthy were out in force for a stroll among the azaleas. Sandals, summer dresses and cocktails for the ladies; chinos, golf shirts, beer and stogies for the men. While they waited for Tiger, they had Bubba for breakfast. And he served up something rather more palatable than the fried chicken and macaroni cheese that he placed before his fellow Green Jackets at Tuesday's champions' dinner.

Watson flexed his pink driver then smashed his opening drive up the hill, sent his approach arcing at the flag and holed his four-foot putt for birdie. At the par-five second, he lunged at his drive so hard, his feet almost left the ground. He battered his ball into the middle of next week. "Oh sheet," yelled a Southern gentleman in awe. Indeed, Bubba had a gameplan. He was playing sheet or bust golf. His approach zeroed in on the centre of the green but his 25 foot eagle putt just curled away from the cup. No matter, tap-in birdie. What a start and what a buzz there was watching Bubba and gossiping about Tiger. The 3rd hole drew more gasps. Bubba thrashed his drive at the 350-yard par four to just 25 yards from the green. He chipped up and holed out for his third birdie in a row. Sensational. He received a standing ovation on to the 4th tee that rivalled any cacophony whipped up by Tiger at the Ryder Cup. This was the sort of stuff that separates the golfing gods (and goofballs) from the mere mortals. But this cavalier attitude was bound to come unstuck on the back nine – and so it proved. He traded three more birdies with a double bogey at the 11th and two further bogeys to sign for a two under par 70 to be two over par for the tournament. Defending his title has been predictably too emotional for Watson, who at least hasn't cried in public since Tuesday. The 34-year-old knows he will be able to return here every year courtesy of the lifetime exemption afforded to Masters champions.

Old Masters champions don't retire, they head to the senior tour. But once a year they get to return to the hallowed grounds of Augusta National to relive their glory years. And some of them can still knock it around this fabled track.

Freddie Couples is 53. He should have hung up the "Gone fishin'" sign long ago but the drug of adulation is a hard one to give up. So, every April at Augusta, Freddie, the 1992 champion, gets to walk the pristine fairways, wave to his adoring fans and feel he is a superstar again. And here he was at five under par and one shot off Jason Day's lead after 36 holes. Surprised? Don't be. He was leading on Friday night last year before finishing 12th.

Ah, Freddie. He is as much a part of Masters tradition as pimento cheese sandwiches and the holy trinity ceremonial starters, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. But Couples still believes he can turn back time. He's kidding himself – and us – of course. He lollops along in what looks like slippers in that loosey-goosey way of his as if he is heading for the beach back home in California. The reality is he wouldn't be walking at all if it weren't for regular pain killing injections in his ailing back that, apparently, are so strong they are like epidurals. But the pain of not being here is worse. This is his 29th Masters since his first in 1983 and Boom Boom Freddie, as he was called in his prime, can still give the ball a mighty belt and his swing is still a thing of beauty. He is art in motion, a natural born talent. He has racked up 17 top 10s alongside that victory and he has missed the weekend cut just twice. He can't win, though, right? "Am I good enough to play four good rounds in a row on a course like this? Couples asked out loud. "It didn't happen last year. I was four over pretty fast on Saturday which was a real bummer." So what would Couples do in the unlikely event that he actually wins his second green jacket 21 years after his first? "I'm going to quit. I swear to God. I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen."

Still, what makes the Masters unique is that the tournament is just as much about celebrating golf's past champions as it is about anointing new ones.

voices Simon Usborne: It's not about political correctness. It's about decency
Wojciech Szczesny watches the ball cross the line as Garath McCleary scores for Reading
football All the latest from Wembley as Gunners face Reading in semi-final
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...