Sometimes 18 holes simply aren’t enough. Sometimes, the golf is so good, so riveting and so pure, that it deserves more for posterity if nothing else.
And when the 76th Masters was finally over on Sunday, the winner was a 33-year-old Floridian who went to school down the road from Augusta at the University of Georgia. He plays the game with unabashed power and a naturalness that would make Bobby Jones proud.
Bubba Watson watched Louis Oosthuizen hit one of the greatest shots ever struck at Augusta National Golf Club, withstood the sheer majesty and stunning consequence of it, then conquered the brilliant South African with some magnificent shotmaking of his own.
Watson won in the fading Georgia light by making par on the second sudden-death hole. When Oosthuizen failed to match it, making bogey at the 10th, the Masters was over and Watson, a rare and unique talent, had his first major championship - and a Green Jacket.
Watson shot a final-round 68 for a 10-under-par 278 total. Oosthuizen matched the total with his 69. Four golfers – Lee Westwood (68), Matt Kuchar (69), Peter Hanson (73) and three-time winner Phil Mickelson (73) – were at 280 on a leader board that was constantly in flux most of the final round. The only constant was Oosthuizen’s name at the top.
“I’ve never had a dream go this far, so I can’t say it’s a dream come true,” Watson said. “I don’t even know what happened on the back nine. Hit a crazy shot that I saw in my head and somehow I’m talking with a Green Jacket on."
“This is the mecca. This is an honor and special privilege to put the Green Jacket on. It’s a special time, a special place."
Later, Watson amended the statement about his dream.
“I dreamed about it,” he said. “But in my dream I never made the putt.”
At the end, the defining shot wasn’t Oosthuizen’s double-eagle 2 on the par-5 second hole. It was Watson’s high, hooking wedge shot from 155 yards, off the pine straw in the trees to the right of the 10th fairway and through a gap in the pines. Two putts later, Watson was the winner.
Oosthuizen set the stage for the heroics to come when he made the fourth double-eagle in Masters history, bouncing a downhill 4-iron from 253 yard on the front of the green and rolling it all the way to the pin. It was the first albatross ever at Augusta National’s 575-yard second hole.
Gene Sarazen, in 1935, made perhaps golf’s most famous albatross when he holed a 4-wood from 235 yards at Augusta National’s 15th hole. It was a shot that played no small part in elevating the Masters to its status as an American sports icon. Sarazen’s double-eagle helped him earn a tie for first place. He won the next day in a 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood, and the albatross was heralded by journalists as “the shot heard ‘round the world.”
In 1967, Bruce Devlin made a 2 at the 13th hole, with a 3-iron from 222 yards. The most recent albatross before Oosthuizen’s came in 1994 when Jeff Maggert drained a 4-wood from 238 yards on the eighth hole. Only Sarazen went on to win the Masters.
“My first double-eagle ever,” Oosthuizen said. “Bubba said he wanted to come over and give me a high-five but thought it might not come off well. If he came over now, I’d probably knock him out.”
Of course, Oosthuizen said it with a smile, and he was being gracious in defeat. It was Watson who delivered the knockout blow.
“It was tough the next five holes to get my head around it and just play the course,” Oosthuizen said. “I felt I found my rhythm and played well from there.”
And so did Watson.
“We always joke about Bubba golf,” Watson said. “I just play the game that I love. It’s like Seve [Ballesteros] played. If you watch Phil Mickelson, he goes for broke. That’s why he wins so many times. He’s not afraid. I attack. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t? My favorite club is the driver.”
Watson became the fifth left-handed golfer to win the Masters in 10 years, beginning with Mike Weir in 2003. Phil Mickelson, who was still in contention on the back nine, has won three times in that span – 2004, 2006 and 2010.
Watson is self-taught. He has never had a lesson and, in a golf galaxy populated with swing gurus, he has no swing instructor. He learned to play golf by hitting wiffle balls at home, shaping them over and around his house. For Watson, the game has always come so effortlessly and with so much spontaneity.
“It must be nice to have so many shots you can hit,” Oosthuizen said.
Watson, with his pink-shafted and pink-headed driver, is golf’s longest driver, but not the most accurate. Watson knew the challenge that awaited him when he drove into the right trees on the 10th hole for the second sudden-death playoff hole.
“I was there earlier, in regulation, so I was used to it,” Watson said. “Had a good lie, had a gap where I had to hook it 40 yards or something – I’m pretty good at hooking it – and somehow it nestled up near the hole.”
It’s a magical time for Watson.
Watson and his wife, Angie, welcomed an adopted baby son, Caleb, just last week.
“To go home to my son, it’s going to be fun,” said Watson, who was overcome by emotion almost before the final putt dropped.
“I don’t know what happen. I just know I was crying later.”
The playoff was a matchup between Watson, 33, a native of Bagdad, Fla., and Oosthuizen, 29, the 2010 British Open champion from Mossel Bay, South Africa. Two young men from different parts of the world with different styles of golf, but sharing the same goals and playing golf about as well as it can be played.
Watson didn’t have a major championship on his resume but he came close just one month after Oosthuizen won the Claret Jug on the Old Course at St. Andrews. Watson reached a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits before losing to Martin Kaymer of Germany.
Watson’s previous best finish in the Masters was a tie for 20th in his debut in 2008. Oosthuizen missed the cut in each of his first three appearances.
Both players had birdie putts on the first extra hole. Both thought they had made those and were surprised when Oosthuizen’s missed right and Watson’s missed left. But it would be over less than 15 minutes later - and now, Watson said, he moves on to other tournaments, other adventures, other roles with “Daddy” high on the list.
“I haven’t changed a diaper yet, probably going to have to change one soon,” Watson said.