AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson could sense what the golf world wanted Sunday – to see 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth officially crowned with his first Masters Tournament title.
You see, Spieth is the new flavor. But he’s more than that. He has the talent and personality to rival Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the sport’s next long-lasting icon.
But Sunday was not about passing the torch and patting a youngster on the back. It was about redemption and validation for the self-taught, big hitter from Bagdad, Fla., who overtook Spieth late in the opening nine holes to capture his second Masters title.
Watson closed with a 3-under-par 69, carving up Augusta National Golf Club in his typical creative shot-making fashion.
His four-round total of 8-under 280 edged runners-up Spieth (72) and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71) by three strokes.
“This one is a lot different. The first one for me, it was almost like I lucked into it,” Watson said. “This one was a lot of hard work and dedication … to get back here. After giving away that (green) jacket last year, I kind of wanted it back.”
Watson also becomes the ninth golfer to win multiple Masters titles in a three-year span, joining Horton Smith (1934, 1936), Ben Hogan (1951, 1953), Sam Snead (1952, 1954), Arnold Palmer (four titles between 1958-64), Jack Nicklaus (three title between 1963-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90), Tiger Woods (2001-02) and Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006).
“Bubba … is a deserving Masters champion,” Spieth said. “That was some incredible golf he played down the stretch to hold it together.”
Plain and simple, after matching Spieth’s birdies at the two front-nine par-3 holes – Nos. 4 and 6 – all Watson had to do was not come undone.
Because Spieth did.
Spieth had an incredible start. He holed out from the bunker at the fourth hole for a birdie. And his near-ace at the sixth hole kept him in the lead.
At No. 7, Spieth coaxed a curling 10-footer in the back of the cup for another birdie to reach 8-under, opening up a two-shot lead over his playing partner in the final pairing.
But over the next two holes, Spieth and Watson switched positions on the leaderboard.
Spieth flared his second shot at the uphill par-5 eighth way right. And his pitch shot came up 25 feet short of the hole. He three-putted for a bogey while Watson birdied.
And at No. 9, Spieth’s 9-iron never climbed high enough on the front slope of the green. It repelled off the green, and he failed to get up and down for par – all while Watson birdied again.
“It’s very early in my career. … I’ll have more chances, (but) it’s a stinger,” Spieth said. “I had (a Masters lead) in my hands, and I could have gone forward with it. I just didn’t quite make the putts.”
Then the axe fell – a watery grave for his tee ball at the 12th hole, which hit the embankment in front of the green and fell back into Rae’s Creek. It led to a final bogey.
“I said yesterday we were too dumb to know where we were. We definitely felt it today,” said Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie and former University Place schoolteacher. “We were trying to give Bubba something to think about. Unfortunately we just didn’t quite execute the shots.”
Watson, 35, birdied the 13th hole after an enormous drive that left him a sand wedge into the par 5. It pushed his lead to three shots. After that, he made five consecutive pars and never faced a late charge – from Spieth or anybody else.
By the time Watson tapped in a final par putt on the finishing hole, emotion spilled out of him – almost in the same way after he defeated South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen in a sudden-death playoff to win the 2012 Masters crown.
This time, it wasn’t his mother, Molly, waiting for him. It was his wife, Angie, and 2-year-old son, Caleb – whom the couple had adopted right before his first major title.
“Winning any tournament is a big deal. Winning the green jacket is a little bit bigger deal,” Watson said. “So yeah, I am going to cry, because why me? Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida? Why is he winning? So I just always ask the question, ‘Why, why me?’”
It’s because it was his time – again.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442