In what had the makings of a duel for the ages Sunday at Augusta National, Bubba Watson fired a 3-under 69 to outlast Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt to win his second Masters title in three years.
But while he won the event by three strokes, Watson did not take control until late in the day. In fact, Watson trailed the 20-year-old Spieth — yeah, TWENTY! — by two as late as the seventh hole, but used birdies on Nos. 8, 9 and 13 to put some space between himself and the upstart to coast home with a three-shot victory.
Here are 5 takeaways from Sunday’s thrilling finish at Augusta National:
1. GREEN MACHINE: This wasn’t the Watson golf has grown accustomed to. This wasn’t the daredevil, take-chances-at-all-costs guy — this was a calculated, play-within-myself guy.
And it worked to perfection.
After a bogey at the par-4 third hole dropped him two shots back of Spieth, Watson would post five birdies and a bogey coming in to slip his arms inside the sleeves of the green jacket for the second time.
"Ultimately, Bubba played some incredible golf. Hat’s off to him. It wasn’t going to be a whole lot I could do, unless I played a flawless round, even after being a few under," Spieth said. "So he deserved it; 8-under on this golf course was a number that I thought would be difficult to achieve after the first couple days. He found a way to do it. So hat’s off to him."
Watson had 11 one-putts Sunday, which was needed after hitting only 10 of 18 greens in regulation — mostly a result of missing 7 of 14 fairways.
"(Bubba) can go out and not try and calculate his way around the golf course, but feel it and know what clubs he’s supposed to hit at certain times to certain pins from yardages. And just kind of knowing the golf course a bit. On top of that, being able to use his creativity and shot making," best friend Rickie Fowler said.
2. GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE: Spieth was aiming to better Tiger Woods as the youngest winner in Masters history. And after seven holes, he sure seemed destined for that, rolling in a 10-footer for birdie to take a two-shot lead over Watson.
But back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 8 and 9, as well as a water ball on No. 12, simply meant he couldn’t catch the nearly mistake-free Watson.
"I got off to the start I wanted to and then they just didn’t fall. Couple bounces here, couple bounces there; a ball flies further on nine, ball flies a little further on 12 and it’s a different story. But to know I was that close and really performed mentally better than I could have anticipated, that’s very reassuring going forward," Spieth said.
That isn’t to say Spieth did not make Augusta history. He became the youngest 54-hole leader in Masters history when he spent Saturday night & Sunday morning tied with Watson atop the leaderboard.
Spieth had spoken to his quest to be stronger mentally late in tournaments, throwing multiple opportunities away on weekends earlier this year on the PGA Tour. He felt he accomplished that goal over the final 36 holes at Augusta National.
"I learned that I actually can have patience. That’s something I’ve been struggling with when in these kind of positions. That’s why I don’t think I’ve won more when I’ve had a chance to. I think this week I proved to myself that if I can go in with that kind of attitude that I’ll be successful more often than not," he said.
3. INCHING CLOSER: Fowler (1-over 73) got his day started with a bang, knocking home an 8-footer on the difficult par-4 first hole to move to 4 under and within one shot of the leaders, who had yet to tee off.
But a three-putt from 10 feet on No. 2 led to a bogey. A string of seven consecutive pars followed, until back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11. And with Watson and Spieth making birdies behind him, Fowler simply didn’t have enough holes to mount any sort of comeback, settling for a T-5 finish — his career-best in a major.
"It was a rough driving day for me. I just hit four fairways. I got off to a nice start and I definitely got a lot out of the round with how poorly I got it off the tee," Fowler said. "I got off to a nice start and had a good look on 2, and had a tough break with a lip-out. Actually two good putts, I walked away with a bogey. Kind of a tough way to start. Yeah, just drove it poorly today, so that kind of kept me from being able to attack the golf course."
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4. LATE PUSH:Rory McIlroy is at the point of his career where there are no moral victories, but he did accomplish a mid-tournament goal Sunday. McIlroy secured his career-best finish at Augusta National behind a final-round 69 that landed him tied for eighth with Jimmy Walker, John Senden, Kevin Stadler, Thomas Bjorn and Bernhard Langer.
"It’s been a frustrating week, because I felt like from tee-to-green I played as good as the leaders," said McIlroy. "I don’t think I’ve ever played as good tee-to-green around this course as I have this week. Above par is very comfortable; I just need to take some more chances than I’ve given myself on the greens."
McIlroy pointed to playing the par 5s in even par as his main problem this week, saying that "you’re looking to play the par-5s somewhere around 10 to 12-under par." (For more on McIlroy, click here.)
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Masters rookie Blixt put together his steadiest round of the week with only one bogey Sunday for a 71 and his fourth subpar round of the tournament in finishing T-2 at 5 under alongside Spieth. Blixt had four bogeys Thursday, a bogey and a double Friday, and three bogeys Saturday; he covered them with more than enough birdies each day. . . . Four back-nine birdies against a bogey at the 11th lifted Miguel Angel Jimenez to a 71 and fourth place. The Spaniard had the week’s best round with a 66 on Saturday, which he needed after a second-round 76. . . . Matt Kuchar signed for a 74 that disappointed after he’d parred Nos. 2 and 3, never recovering from a four-putt double bogey at the par-3 No. 4 hole. He finished T-5 alongside Fowler at 2 under. Kuchar is still looking for his first major championship. . . . If Sunday was the only day that counted, Joost Luiten would need a tailor. He shot 67 thanks to birdies on four of the last five holes; Stewart Cink had the second-best round at 68. Luiten finished T-26 at 4 over, Cink T-14 at 1 over. . . . 1987 champion Larry Mize and Kevin Streelman had the day’s worst rounds with 7-over 79s. . . . Defending champion Adam Scott bogeyed Nos. 2 and 3, then birdied three straight at Nos. 7-9 to build hope at the turn. But three bogeys against two birdies the rest of the way left him with a 72 and a T-14 finish as he headed in to place the green jacket on Watson’s shoulders.