AUGUSTA, Ga. This was less a competition than a coronation.
If the Masters had been a Sprint Cup race, NASCAR would have found debris beneath the yellow jasmine, juniper and the flowering crabapple, waved a yellow flag and forced Bubba Watson back to the pack.
That was the only way Bubba’s competitors were going to catch him Sunday.
Instead, Bubba treated fans to four rounds of sustained excellence. He trailed by one stroke after one round, led by three after two and was tied with Jordan Spieth after three.
Spieth, who somehow is only 20, began beautifully Sunday. He took the lead with a second hole birdie and kept it for a while. He led by two strokes after seven holes.
But Bubba birdied seven and eight and Spieth bogeyed seven and eight. And once Bubba seized the lead, he didn’t give it up: He beat Spieth by three strokes and Jonas Blixt by three strokes and is your 2014 Masters champion.
Blixt is the Swedish Seminole, a hockey player in Sweden and a golfer at Florida State.
Blixt is interesting; Spieth compelling. But they are best supporting actors. The tournament belonged to Bubba.
“That was some incredible golf he played down the stretch to hold it together and make his pars,” Spieth says.
When Bubba won his first green jacket two years ago he was two strokes back after one round, one back after two and three back after three. He won in a playoff with a shot entrenched in Masters’ lore, a big hooking approach from the deep pine straw that would win any game of h-o-r-s-e.
Like a great point guard, Bubba makes shots others don’t see. He shapes shots, creates shots and, man, does he blast that ball. He clears bunkers 300 yards away.
Spieth, Bubba’s playing partner Sunday, would hit a nice drive and feel good about it. Then Bubba would hit. Then Spieth would feel less good.
The past two Masters ended in playoffs. This one ended with Bubba walking off the green to his son, Caleb. Bubba and his wife, Angie, adopted Caleb before the 2012 Masters when Caleb was a month old.
On Sunday, Caleb was old enough to stand and small enough to be scooped up. A left-hander, Bubba cradled Caleb with his left arm while he slapped the hands of fans and officials and everybody else he encountered with his right.
This might be the image that endures: a tall, lean and dark-haired Watson carrying his blond, round and curly-haired son on a family victory lap.
I wonder if, when fans watched the scene, they thought about adoption.
“There’s so many kids out there that need homes, that would love homes,” says Bubba. “So, you know, what a dream.”
Bubba slapped 10 hands, 25, and perhaps even 50. It’s cool and right when a champion in any sport invites fans inside.
Bubba does this in part by coming from a working-class background. Most of us come from the same place.
You don’t have to grow up rich to excel in golf. Bubba didn’t come up at a country club with superior equipment and a swing coach. He didn’t take lessons. Come on; his name is Bubba. Bubbas don’t take lessons. Bubbas teach themselves.
And they offer advice to the self-taught.
“You have to play,” says Bubba. “You have to play your swing. You have to play what you know. Sometimes I hit a big slice off the tee to get it in play. Sometimes I hit a big draw with an iron. Just whatever makes you feel comfortable.”
And if knocking the ball yards past everybody else’s makes you comfortable, have at it.
When Bubba won the Masters two years ago, his game was beautiful in its scope and adventure.
This week it was beautiful in its simplicity.
“I’m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I’m one of the greats of the game,” Bubba says. “I play golf because I love it, I love the game, I want to grow the game. The game has brought me everything that I’ve ever owned in my life.”
He could be talking about the houses and cars he owns.
He could be talking about the Masters.
Sorensen: 704-358-5119; email@example.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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