By Ryan Lavner, Golfweek
AUGUSTA, Ga. – His head down, Phil Mickelson was rehearsing his putting stroke in the middle of the first green when he heard the roar. On Sundays at Augusta National, the world’s best often play amid the soundtrack of sustained, boisterous cheers emanating from all corners of the course. The simple truth: Either crank up the volume yourself, or risk being drowned out.
So when Mickelson heard the roar from Louis Oosthuizen’s historic double eagle on the hole ahead, Lefty lifted his head, perma-grin still intact, and searched for its genesis. A hole-out on 8? An ace on 16? No, no. Something far more unlikely: a deuce on the par-5 second.
Incredibly -- no, improbably -- that moment turned out to be only a prelude to another manic final round at the Masters.
During a volatile final day in which there were two holes-in-one, an albatross and a head-scratching moment from another left-hander, Bubba Watson -- in typical Bubba fashion -- boomed drives, holed a few crucial putts down the stretch, and on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Oosthuizen, cork-screwed a gap wedge to set up the winning par and his first major championship title.
“I’ve never had a dream go this far,” Watson, 33, said, “so I can’t say it’s a dream come true.”
In the end, fans exulted and then barked in support for the University of Georgia alumnus, who captured his fourth career PGA Tour title. After brushing in the 6-incher to win, Watson stood by the cup and sobbed, embraced by his caddie, Ted Scott, and by his mother, Molly, and by his fellow touring pros, Ben Crane, Aaron Baddeley and Rickie Fowler.
“He’s worked for this all his life,” said Molly Watson. “Daddy always told us it would happen, and it did. It still seems unreal to me.”
Bubba’s wife, Angie, wasn’t in Augusta to congratulate her husband in person. She was in Windermere, Fla., at the couple’s leased home in Isleworth, with their recently adopted six-week-old son, Caleb. On Tuesday of Bay Hill week, after being turned away just a day prior, Bubba and Angie received a call from the organization Chicks in Crisis: Their four-year quest to adopt was over.
So all last week, Angie texted cellphone photos of their infant son. Caleb had watched dad on TV and, apparently, enjoyed the post-round interview. The next obstacle for Bubba: changing a dirty diaper. Welcome to parenthood, champ.
“I can’t wait to get back,” Bubba said, beaming.
There is no player in the game quite like Watson, with his homemade swing, his hot-pink driver, his titanium-denting drives, his quirky follow-throughs and posturing and shuffling after impact. He calls the combination “Bubba Golf.” And there was no more fitting example of “Bubba Golf” than his approach shot on the par-4 10th, during the second hole of the playoff with Oosthuizen. After sending his tee shot into the right trees, Watson approached his ball on a bed of pine needles, saw a gap in the trees and knew the shot he wanted to pull off: about 155 yards, 52-degree gap wedge, aim left, hook it 40 yards back toward the middle of the green. “Pretty easy,” Watson said, smiling.
Said Oosthuizen: “I had no idea where he was. ... An unbelievable shot.”
During a day full of them: A nervous 54-hole leader (Peter Hanson) shanked his tee shot on 12; a happy-go-lucky pursuer (Matt Kuchar) nearly holed out for double eagle himself, on the par-5 15th; and two players (Adam Scott and Bo Van Pelt) made an ace on the vulnerable 16th.
The most bizarre shot, perhaps, was Phil Mickelson’s tee shot on the par-3 fourth. Briefly morphing into his alter-ego, “Phil the Thrill,” Lefty’s ball caromed off a grandstand railing and into the bamboo left of the cart path. He hit two shots right-handed, leading to a triple bogey (his second of the week) and essentially ending his bid for a fourth green jacket. “What will I take from today?” Mickelson asked, repeating the question. “Third place. It’s not what I was hoping for.”
The most spectacular shot, no doubt, was Oosthuizen’s hole-out from 235 yards with a 4-iron on the second hole. In Oosthuizen’s group, Watson contemplated his next move after seeing the albatross. “I told him I wanted to run over there and give him a high-five,” he said. “I mean, he’s getting crystal.”
Bubba got much more than that, of course, to the delight of the partisan crowd that cheered “Go Dawgs!” and whoof, whoof, whoofed as Watson slipped on the green jacket.
They, too, see the goofy Bubba: the one who plays video games with his buddies, who owns the original General Lee car, who tweets prolifically, who chips both outside -- and inside -- his rented house in Augusta.
“He is who he is,” Fowler said, “and he doesn’t try to be someone else. He doesn’t put an act on. He’s just him -- you either like him or you don’t.”
What this means now is that Bubba from Bagdad, Fla., is headed for Madison Avenue. So, he was asked, how high is the ceiling?
“I’m a major champion,” Watson said, “so I think I’m done, right? I can’t do anything better than this.”