The rarest shot in golf can happen any time Bubba Watson has a golf club in hands.
Watson was so deep in the woods late Sunday afternoon that he couldn’t even see where he was going. With his golf ball nestled on a bed of pine needles, he hit a gap wedge that shot out toward the fairway and hooked some 40 yards and onto the elevated green.
Nothing less than the Masters was riding on the outcome. Nothing else would do except for a page right out of “Bubba golf.”
And on a thrill-a-minute Sunday at Augusta National, where Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa made only the fourth double eagle in the 76-year history of this major, it made Watson a Masters champion.
”I’ve never had a dream go this far, so I can’t really say it’s a dream come true,” Watson said. ”I don’t even know what happened on the back nine. … Nervous on every shot, every putt. Went into a playoff. I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head, and somehow I’m here talking to you with a green jacket on.”
His amazing shot in the playoff settled 10 feet from the hole, setting up a simple par for the win.
Lost in all the commotion was Oosthuizen making what is commonly called the rarest shot in golf – an albatross – when his 4-iron from 253 yards on the par-5 second hole landed on the front of the green, took the slope and rolled some 90 feet into the cup for a 2.
Oosthuizen had never made a double eagle in his life.
His Masters ended by watching a shot he didn’t know existed.
After hitting short of the 10th green in the playoff, he was in the fairway and could only see a trail of fans leading into the woods.
”I had no idea where he was,” Oosthuizen said. ”Where I stood from, when the ball came out, it looked like a curve ball. Unbelievable shot. That shot he hit definitely won him the tournament.”
Watson, who made four straight birdies on the back nine and closed with a 4-under 68, made it all sound so simple. Maybe it’s because he has hit so many shots like that before. Maybe it’s because he is one of the few players who doesn’t have a swing coach, and never has.
”Hooked it about 40 yards, hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising,” Watson said. ”Pretty easy.”
The hard part was holding back tears.
He was blubbering hard on the 10th green, shoulders heaving and face contorted, for so many reasons. Just two weeks ago, he and his wife adopted a baby boy, Caleb. The first person on the green was his mother – his father died right after the Ryder Cup in 2010. He held her tight and cried some more.
As incredible as it all seemed, Gerry ”Bubba” Watson, Jr., the powerful lefty with a million shots at his disposal, was a major champion.
”I never got this far in my dreams,” Watson said in Butler cabin, where defending champion Charl Schwartzel helped him into the green jacket. ”It’s a blessing. To go home to my new son, it’s going to be fun.”
Oosthuizen was trying to join Gene Sarazen in the 1935 Masters as the only major champions to win with a double eagle in the final round. The former British Open champion made one clutch putt after another on the back nine, none more important than a 4-footer on the 18th for a 69 to force the playoff.
Both had a good look at birdie at No. 18 on the first extra hole and missed.
Watson, dressed all in white and using a pink driver, hooked his tee shot on the 10th into the trees, and it appeared he would have no shot at reaching the green.
Walking down the fairway toward an uncertain lie, he and caddie Ted Scott recalled their credo – ”If I have a swing, I’ve got a shot.”
Among his idols in golf are Seve Ballesteros, who built a career on magical escapes like this one. It was the first Masters since Ballesteros died last May. Watson also admires Phil Mickelson, who never saw a flag that frightened him.
”I attack. I always attack,” Watson said. ”I don’t like to go to the center of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t? That’s why we play the game of golf, to pull off the amazing shot.”
They finished at 10-under 278, two shots ahead of four players who kept it close and made the Masters as compelling as ever.
Mickelson, playing in the final group for the fourth time, recovered from a triple bogey on the par-3 fourth hole and still managed to stay in the game. He could only make two-putt birdies on the two par 5s on the back and shot 72.
”It’s disappointing that I didn’t grab that fourth green jacket,” said Mickelson, whose wife and three kids flew in from San Diego on Sunday. ”It’s disappointing that I didn’t make it happen on the back nine and get the putts to fall, even though I felt like I was hitting them pretty good. I gave them all good chances. I just couldn’t quite get them to go.”
Lee Westwood of England ran off three straight birdies, but the last one hurt. He had an 8-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead on the 15th and missed it, and a final birdie on the 18th gave him a 68 and only made it look close.
”I don’t feel like giving up just yet,” said Westwood, who had his seventh top-3 finish in a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
Matt Kuchar tied for the lead with a short eagle putt on the 15th, then bogeyed the 16th for a 69. Peter Hanson of Sweden, who had a one-shot lead going into the final round, didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole. He closed with a 73.
Watson, a 33-year-old from Bagdad, Fla., in the Panhandle, won for the fourth time in his career and moves to No. 4 in the world, making him the highest-ranked American in golf. He became the fifth left-hander to win the Masters in the last 10 years.
And he created a legion of fans – especially in Georgia, where he returned to school to get his degree – who chanted, ”Bubba! Bubba! Bubba!” as he hugged everyone he could find on the 10th green.
”I don’t play the sport for fame. I don’t try to win tournaments for fame,” Watson said. ”I don’t do any of that. It’s just me. I’m just Bubba. I goof around. I joke around.
”I just want to be me and play golf.”
Tiger Woods used to play practice rounds with Watson at the majors because he was intrigued how a guy who has never had a coach could make the ball move any direction he wanted.
Watson hasn’t had a lesson since he was 10. His father taught him the basic grip and basic swing, and Watson took it from there. The challenge has always been figuring out the game by himself. ”I just swing funny, and somehow it works,” he once said.
Woods was among those who congratulated Watson on Twitter before the trophy presentation.
”Congrats (at)bubbawatson. Fantastic creativity. Now how creative will the champions dinner be next year?” he tweeted.
Oosthuizen was trying to become only the sixth player to have won majors at Augusta National and St. Andrews – two of the most revered courses in golf – and almost got it done.
He stayed in the lead with a tricky par putt from 10 feet on the 14th and a 7-foot birdie putt on the 15th, but Watson caught him by making his fourth straight birdie on the back nine, a tee shot into 4 feet on the 16th.
Both hung on for pars the rest of the way.
Woods went from the favorite to not even a factor on the weekend. He closed with a birdie on the 18th for a 74 and had his highest score ever at the Masters as a pro, finishing at 5-over 293 – 15 shots out of the lead.
This, from a guy who only two weeks ago won by five shots at Bay Hill, presumably signaling a return.
”It was an off week at the wrong time,” Woods said.
He tied for 40th with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, also favored to contend. McIlroy was one shot out of the lead after two rounds, then had a 77-76 weekend.
Woods and McIlroy were expected to be a big part of the show. This being Augusta, the show managed to go on. There simply is no greater theater in golf than the Masters, and it lasted all day.
An ace for Bo Van Pelt on the 16th – the second straight year he has made two eagles on the back nine – for a tournament-best 64. An ace for Adam Scott on the same hole, sending him to a 66.
The loudest cheer was for Oosthuizen’s albatross.
Hanson was sizing up a difficult chip from right of the first green when Augusta erupted in cheers from down below. No one was sure what it meant until Hanson and Mickelson hit their tee shots on the par-5 second, glanced over at the white leaderboard behind the eighth green and saw that Oosthuizen had gone from 7 under to 10 under ahead of them.
Hanson made two quick bogeys and never caught back up. Mickelson’s tournament might have ended on the fourth hole with one swing, one bad bounce off the bleachers, and two straight right-handed shots that led to triple bogey.
”Oh, no,” Mickelson said as his tee shot struck the grandstand and caromed into the woods. He could have gone back to the tee and played his third shot. Instead, he tried to chop out of the trees from the right side and barely moved it a yard. He tried the same shot again and slapped it to a muddy patch of grass. From there he went into the bunker, and triple bogey was the best he could do.
Kuchar made a late run, but this back nine – plus two extra holes – ultimately belonged to Watson and Oosthuizen. And when it was over, austere Augusta National had a guy named ”Bubba” in a green jacket.