Bubba Watson says he has discovered the secret to playing well at the Masters (hint: it’s not complicated, nor, actually, is it much of a secret). But if Watson continues to successfully tap into what he’s learned about Augusta National, he can probably plan on slipping into his second green jacket Sunday evening.
Buoyed by five consecutive birdies on the back nine Friday, Watson shot a 4-under-par 68 for a two-day total 137, giving him a three-shot lead over John Senden, who also shot 68 and is at 140 for the tournament. Another shot back and in a four-way tie for third at 141 are defending champ Adam Scott, Thomas Bjorn, Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth.
“It’s not science here,” said Watson, who was the final player in the tournament to make a bogey when he took a five on the par-4 ninth Friday. “Try to hit some greens. If you’re hitting greens, you’re obviously hitting tee shots well. Two putts. Maybe throw in a birdie here or there. That’s all I was doing and it’s worked out so far.”
Watson’s birdie barrage – which began on No. 12 and concluded on No. 16 – wasn’t a Masters record. That is shared by Tiger Woods and Jerry Pate (seven in a row). And Watson said it wasn’t even his most memorable stretch of golf at Augusta. He made four birdies in a row along the same stretch in 2012 – the year he won.
“The (2012) birdies felt a lot better,” Watson said. “It’s one of those things. Every guy in the field has had that stretch before, playing with their buddies or in (another) tournament. So it’s not that big a deal when we think about it. But at the Masters, it makes it a big deal.”
Watson has hit 28 of 36 greens so far. The tee shot that set up his final birdie, on the par-3 No. 16, nearly went in for a hole-in-one. Watson clenched the shaft of his 9-iron in his teeth in frustration it didn’t go in.
Watson started the day a stroke behind first-round leader Bill Haas, who slipped to a 6-over 78 for the day and trails Watson by nine strokes. Scott, tied with Watson after the first round, shot an even par 72. Louis Oosthuizen, also tied for second after the first round, faded despite making an eagle on No. 13. He gave all that back and more with a triple bogey on No. 15 to finish with a 75 (seven back with a 144 total).
It took Watson a while to get going, playing the front nine even par. But when he did start rolling, he threatened to run away with the tournament. A bogey on No. 18 tempered things for him somewhat.
When he walked off the 18th green, Watson began to feel like he’d come full circle from that 2012 Masters victory. Watson’s playoff victory over Oosthuizen wasn’t even the biggest thing that happened to him that spring.
Two weeks before the ‘12 Masters, Bubba and wife Angie adopted a son, Caleb. The baby’s arrival made winning the Masters all the more emotional for Watson, but also contributed to a disappointing season in 2013, when he not only failed to win, but also finished 37th in the FedEx Cup standings and didn’t make the Presidents Cup team.
He couldn’t even fully enjoy the 2013 Masters champions dinner he hosted.
“When I won the green jacket, I was becoming a dad,” said Watson. “It takes time. It takes energy. You’re learning to refocus, to practice more), to get back to the level I think I should be at.
“I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t play my best golf. So it was a hangover from the green jacket.”
To help him retain his focus, Watson has rented two houses in Augusta this week. One for him, Angie and Caleb; the other for extended family.
“He’s enjoying golf again,” said Angie. “It’s fun for him. It doesn’t matter if he shoots 80 or 8 under, he’s still going to be playing T-ball with Caleb in the back yard.”
Watson wasn’t the only player to tame the windy, dry conditions. Senden, an Australian who won the Valspar Championship in March, matched Watson’s day, if not in as spectacular fashion. He’s looking forward to playing with Watson in the final group Saturday.
“I’ll be nervous,” Senden said. “Bubba has his game plan. I’ll just go out there and hit shots and hit putts. I think that’s why we’re at the top. We can deal with it.”