What Bubba Watson hopes to accomplish this week doesn’t happen often. Three times since 1934, in fact.
Winning a Masters championship in consecutive years is one of sport’s rarest feats. And Watson, the winner at Augusta National in 2012 and ’14, gets a second crack at it when the season’s first major championship tees off Thursday.
Tiger Woods (2001, ’02), Nick Faldo (1989, ’90) and Jack Nicklaus (1965, ’66) are the only golfers to win the Masters in back-to-back seasons. So while Watson will always be part of what is now an exclusive, 17-member fraternity of multiple winners, he already understands how tough it is to win twice in a row.
He got his first taste of those nerves when hosting the 2013 Champions Dinner, a Tuesday night tradition during Masters week.
“You’re talking about great champions across the board, old and young, and now I’m getting to sit and have dinner with them and I’m making sure they like the food I picked out,” said Watson
Beyond the stress of hosting Tuesday’s dinner, Watson found other unanticipated distractions that also played with his mind. Still fresh was his 2012 victory, which was highlighted by a near-miraculous 50-yard hook on the second playoff hole (No. 10).
“The first time after winning like I did in ’12, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Watson, who would finish tied for 50th in 2013. “The media attention, the atmosphere, even a year later, you’re excited about your win.”
Watson returned to Augusta in 2014 unburdened by defending-champion expectations. He won his second Masters by taking control on the back nine on Sunday and winning by three strokes over Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt.
“Last year, when I was down three (strokes) on No. 7 (on Sunday), I focused on 2012, when I know how tough the back nine can be,” Watson said. “So I knew how to deal with the pressure. I knew what the pressure was. Knowing what I went through in 2012, I could deal with it a little bit.”
And here he is, trying to do it again – again.
“This time I know what to expect,” said Watson, who has seven career victories, including this season’s WGC-HSBC. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to play any better. I just know what to expect. I know how to save some energy. I know more. That doesn’t mean it’s going to help, it just means that I should be better prepared this time.”
Woods, who is playing for the first time since February this week after injuring his back, has had four chances to win consecutive Masters. He was successful that one time, in 2002, and had a simple answer when asked if he’s surprised it’s only happened three times in Masters history.
“No,” Woods said. “This golf course is very, very demanding. You have to have every facet of your game going. Only three guys have done it, and you’ve seen some of the best players in the world come through here. It’s just hard.”
Earlier this week, Watson was walking up the ninth fairway during a practice round. He turned to his caddie, Ted Scott, and said, “Teddy, I just can’t even believe it. I’m still trying to get over 2012 and I haven’t even gotten to 2014 yet.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
Notable first-round groupings
9:24 a.m.: Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Gunn Yang: 2014 champ Watson, ’13 U.S. Open winner Rose play with Korean amateur (and San Diego State Aztec) Yang.
10:08 a.m.: Ben Crenshaw, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner: Crenshaw’s streak of 44 consecutive Masters appearances comes to an end this week.
10:41 p.m.: Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore: McIlroy begins pursuit of career slam with three-time Masters champ Mickelson.
1:48 p.m.: Tiger Woods, Jamie Donaldson, Jimmy Walker: The day’s penultimate pairing gives maximum television exposure to Woods’ return.
1:59 p.m.: Jason Day, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler: Lots of star power (but no majors) in this grouping, the final of the day. David Scott