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Watson returns as champion

By David Scott
dscott@charlotteobserver.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. A year later, the emotions remain close to the surface for Bubba Watson.

When Watson thinks back to the moments after he won the 2012 Masters, the tears well up again.

He wasn’t planning on doing anything drastic with the green jacket he had just won. All he wanted was to take it home and wrap it around Caleb, the baby boy Watson and his wife Angie had just adopted.

As he recounted the story earlier this week, he blinked back the tears – just as he did last April after beating Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff.

“Out of respect and honor for Augusta National, I didn’t do any of my funny antics that I normally would do,” Watson said. “Only thing I did was wrap Caleb up in it.”

As the Masters gets under way again Thursday morning, much of the attention is on Tiger Woods and his pursuit of a 15th major championship. But the guy who won it last year – Watson – wouldn’t mind doing it again.

“I can see pulling it off,” Watson said. “I’d still cry, but it wouldn’t shock me.”

It’s been a transformative year for Watson, from the arrival of Caleb, to winning his first major championship, to living with the newfound celebrity that comes with it.

“My platform has changed,” Watson said. “I can do some good in this world. I can do some good things off the course.”

Watson helped organize a charity concert called “Bubba’s Bash,” which featured 10 Christian bands and raised money for a hospital to be built in Kenya. This year’s concert is in May.

“That stuff is more important than my fame. It’s just because my platform is higher now, where I can do some good in this world.”

Watson has had fun with being the Masters champion, from his appearances in the “Golf Boys” videos with Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane (check YouTube) to his playful, deliberate refusal to divulge the menu at the Masters champions dinner on Tuesday night (grilled chicken, macaroni and cheese and confetti cake). His preparation for the tournament hit a high spot during practice Wednesday when he had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole.

Watson’s Masters victory will be best remembered by the shot he made on the second sudden-death playoff hole, a snap hook off of the pine needles among the trees on No. 10 that somehow found its way to the green and allowed him to make par.

It’s a shot that Watson – a left-handed, self-taught player who has never had a golf lesson – has trouble explaining in technical terms.

He talked about how, as a left-hander, he needed to hit a draw. He pulled a 52-degree gap wedge from his bag, closed his stance and swung as hard as he could.

He had unleashed what will go down as one of the great shots in Masters history and one that will forever define his career. It flew out of the trees, broke sharply to the right and rolled 10 feet from the cup.

Two putts later – after Oosthuizen had bogeyed – Watson was Masters champion.

“It was all about speed, speed, speed,” said Watson of the shot. “How you (describe) that in scientific terms, I have no idea. But that’s what I did. I didn’t think about it at the time.”

Watson said the shot also involved equal parts imagination and nerve.

“A lot of professional golfers can see (the shot),” he said. “Doing it’s the hard part.”

The spot from where Watson hit the shot has become the latest Augusta landmark where fans – and others – gather. On Sunday, as he was playing a practice round with Angie, Watson noticed three men looking for the spot.

Watson said he motioned the men over a few yards to where he actually hit the shot. It was then that Watson noticed that one of them was Billy Casper, who won the Masters in 1970.

“Kind of funny,” Watson said.

Augusta National loves its history, and honors its legends with plaques (for Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer) and bridges (named for Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen).

Those landmarks commemorate long, distinctive bodies of work at the Masters; nothing for a single shot, no matter how memorable.

But Padraig Harrington – a right-hander – wandered over to Watson’s spot in the woods off the 10th fairway earlier this week, took a practice swing as a lefty before deciding not to try to duplicate the shot. Harrington then wondered aloud why there wasn’t a plaque there memorializing Watson’s shot.

“Plaques are great,” Watson said. “Who would not want to be honored by a plaque?”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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