04 Apr 2024

Bubba Watson – Mastering The Masters

Ten years ago, Bubba Watson joined one of the most exclusive clubs in the world of golf by becoming just the 17th player to win a Green Jacket at the Masters Tournament on more than one occasion. 

It’s a club unlike any other, featuring the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, with Watson remaining the last man to achieve multiple wins on the hallowed turf of Augusta National following first-time winners in the nine editions since his second triumph in 2014. 

While the American’s first victory is remembered so fondly for his miraculous 45-yard hook from the pine straw at the tenth on the second play-off hole with Louis Oosthuizen, his second win is perhaps looked back on as the time he stole the spotlight from a then 20-year-old Jordan Speith seeking a Green Jacket on his first outing in Georgia.

The duo couldn’t be separated after 54 holes, tied for the lead on five under par ahead of the final round, as Spieth looked to beat Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of the event.

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The youngster dueled with Watson for much of the day, at one point holding a two-stroke lead, but the Texan’s chances were sunk in the water of Amen Corner and he carded 72 to end five under, with a matured Watson shooting a final round 69 to win by three from his compatriot and Jonas Blixt.

“Gosh, I had a three-shot lead, so that made things a little bit easier even though I was still nervous and scared coming down 18,”  Watson told Worldwide Golf, referring to his memories of his historic second victory.

“I had a three-shot lead playing with the great Jordan Spieth, I was thankful he won the next year and not that year! My memories really are just seeing the maturity of Spieth, I think he was 20 at the time, and I was playing with him on that Sunday.

“It was interesting seeing him in action, as well as my son being on the 18th green. My daughter asks me every year if I can win so she can also be there. I tell her I’m trying!”

While the 14-time PGA Tour winner has slipped down to a barley believable 1767th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) following his move to the LIV Golf circuit in 2022, Watson is guaranteed a start, for now, into the Masters Tournament for a lifetime as a former champion.

Sweet 16

This month he will make his 16th trip down the iconic Magnolia Lane, so you’d think those nerves and butterflies in the stomach that a first timer gets wouldn’t apply to this two-time champion, who celebrated 20 years as a professional in 2022.

Think again.

“Sixteen, really? Wow,” he exclaims. “That’s crazy because I do still get nervous and excited. My kids now are old enough where they get excited because of the par three competition as they want to caddie for me.

“Last year I made a hole in one on the fourth, which was 67 yards, and my son told me I didn’t have that shot. I made the ace, turned to him, laughed and said ‘I guess I do have that shot!’

“The tournament just fills you up with energy and excitement. The game of golf buzzes that week because it’s the Masters. No matter what part of the world you’re from, you want to win the Masters, even if you do say something different to the media. That’s the one you always put on your list.”

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The magic of the Masters certainly rubs off on Watson.

In his 15 starts at the first Major of the season, the 45-year-old has only missed the cut twice, with three additional top 20s alongside his two victories. Beyond Augusta, Watson has played 42 Major Championships, failing to make the weekend on 19 occasions while only mustering four top 20 finishes.

What is it about Augusta National Golf Club that works so well for him?

“It’s funny, it’s shaping shots, right?” he says. “You hit it in the rough, it’s a slight rough, or the trees and you can play out of there – shot shaping is key around Augusta.

“If you look at all the past champions, at some point they’ve had to create a shot. Even if that’s chipping out to the right side of the green so you can chip up and make par, they still had to do something.

“But then you go to U.S. Open, you’re chipping out sideways and you’ve only missed the fairway by a couple of feet. That isn’t golf, that’s not fun.

“So, the Masters gives you the opportunity to hit more creative shots. Me personally, I always feel I’m able to pull something off, no matter if I hit it way in the trees, opposite fairway or whatever it is, I always feel there is a chance for me to pull something off.

“You don’t always feel that at the other Majors, especially the U.S. Open.”

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The most creative and talked about shot of Watson’s career is the aforementioned spectacular 52-degree wedge shot from the trees on the second play-off hole at the tenth.

Behind Tiger’s memorable chip-in on the 16th in 2006, it’s arguably the most replayed clip in the history of the game, especially during a Masters week.

It was Watson at his brilliant best in what he described as “Bubba golf”, an inventive, daring approach where he relies on his imagination, skill, and boldness to get around the course.

The quirky left-hander, who has never had a professional lesson, can curve the ball at ease with his standout pink driver, while his lanky frame and aggressive swing enable him to launch the ball miles.

It’s that creativeness with a club in hand that has made him a firm fan favourite over the years.

“I love it, even if me and you were playing back home just for giggles, I still want to pull off the most creative shots,” he says. “That’s what pulls be me back to the golf course and encourages me to play golf at a high level – I want to create memorable shots in certain moments.

“The Masters was the biggest moment ever and I pulled it off, but that’s the challenge. That’s what motivates me to show up, not to hit 18 birdies in a row, but to hit a wild shot or a shot that hasn’t been seen. That’s the creative side and wanting to pull that shot off.”

In the ten years since Watson’s second triumph at Augusta National, the course has undergone a fair few changes.

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Evolution

The most notable of those have come in the last few years, with the iconic par-5 15th, historically the tournament’s second-easiest hole, lengthened by 20 yards in 2022, while the tee at the par-4 11th – the start of the infamous Amen Corner – was moved back an extra 15 yards, with the change also seeing the fairway recontoured and several trees removed to the right of the fairway.

Last year, the 13th hole, one of the most famous in all of golf, saw its tee box moved back 35 yards, onto adjacent property that Augusta National bought for millions of dollars in 2017.

More length has been added ahead of this month’s edition, with the longest hole on the golf course, the par-5 second named Pink Dogwood, playing to 585 yards after the club moved the tee box back 10 yards and to the left.

Those changes have added 110 yards to the course compared to 2014.

“You’re going to feel like you need to turn a little bit more,” said Watson on the latest change to the second. “I haven’t been there yet, but I don’t like the changes.

“A few years ago, they took the roars away when they added length, but then they wanted to bring the roars back so people could make eagles. Now it seems like we’re backtracking with the changes made to 13, 2, 18, which is so far back, and 7 is also a long way back. I remember when Tiger won, he was hitting lob wedge in there, and that green is built for a wedge, not a 7 iron.

“I’m old school, I want to see and hear the roars. I want to see what Tiger did and see someone do that again.

“Unless I win, I’m not going to be happy with it, but if I win, I think the course is great!”

With Watson guaranteed a start in the Masters until he decides to put the clubs away, he could well have another 20+ years of witnessing plenty more changes at Augusta National to combat the modern player’s distance off the tee.

Sandy Lyle played last year’s edition at the age of 65, while Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples continue to defy their age by competing against the game’s elite, with the latter creating history in 2023 by becoming the oldest player to make the cut at the age of 63 years old and 187 days.

The 15-time PGA Tour winner surpassed Langer’s record he set in 2020 when the German was 63 years old and 80 days. Does Watson envisage having the same longevity as those greats?

“I’m hoping I have the chance to do that because of my health and staying healthy,” said Watson.

“You always see Fred Couples’ name up there. Those are guys that have been around that course so much that they have a ton of experience and course knowledge that gives them an advantage, even as older as they are than the rest of us.

“And then you’ve Phil (Mickelson) last year finishing tied second, it’s great. I feel like I have a chance as long as I do my part by staying healthy and giving it my all on the practice range.”

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