When Bubba Watson is in his element, golf is all about vision and feel. He sees the shot in his mind, hits the ball and eptiomizes effortless power.
For 36 holes, Watson has put his unique talents on display once again at Augusta National Golf Club. He’s crushing his drives, puring his irons and rolling his putts smooth and true. The statistics bear this out.
What the statistics can’t measure is Watson’s state of mind, but there’s no need to guess about that. The 35-year-old left-handed Floridian, in search of his second Green Jacket in three years, is in full Bubba mode at the 78th Masters.
“For the first two days, I look like I know what I'm doing and hopefully the next two days I can play just as good,” Watson said Friday.
He had just shot a 4-under-par 68 to complement his opening 69 for a 137 total and three-shot lead over Australian John Senden (who also shot 68) at the Tournament’s midway point.
Defending champion Adam Scott (72) and heralded Masters rookie Jordan Spieth (70) are four strokes off the pace, along with Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71) and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (68).
Three Americans are at 2-under 142: Jimmy Walker (72), another Masters first-timer, 54-year-old Fred Couples (71) and Jim Furyk (68).
Spieth’s round was highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 No. 15.
“A big goal of mine this year was to get in contention at a major,” Spieth said, adding that the Masters is “the one that I dreamt about since I was who knows how old.
“Mr. Crenshaw says it best: The Masters brings out emotion in guys that aren't emotional,” Spieth said of the two-time Green Jacket winner, who is one of his mentors. “I'm already emotional and I got to keep it on the down low. So I felt like if I could get my game right and really handle myself mentally, then I could have an opportunity to be in contention. That's where I'm at now and a lot of work to do.”
Scott maintained the cool composure he has shown all week. “It’s good to be in shouting distance,” said Scott, who recovered from a front-nine 39 to shoot even par. “I still think if you're playing, you’ve got a chance. It all depends how firm and how tricky the pin spots are tomorrow.”
Three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson topped the list of those missing the cut. He shot 73-149. There were also Ernie Els (74-149), Sergio Garcia (75-149), Luke Donald (70-149), 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel (76-149) and PGA Champion Jason Dufner (74-154).
In strengthening breezes, when some of the finest players in the world couldn’t cope with the challenges of Augusta National, Watson made it look like a casual stroll.
“It’s never easy,” Watson said. “It's a great test of golf and I just got some good breaks, some good things that went my way. Guessed the wind right on the stretch of holes on the back nine there.”
That stretch included five straight birdies from the 12th through the 16th holes. “You don't know that you're making all these birdies,” Watson said. “You're focused on one shot at a time. At Augusta, that's what you have to do.”
Watson has made two bogeys in 36 holes, both during Friday’s second round. He shot 36 on the front, with a birdie at the seventh and a bogey at the ninth. After a par-par start on the back, he reeled off his birdie run. He hit 9-irons to both the par 3 holes on the back, the 12th and 16th. At the 12th, his approach finished 30 inches from the hole for the birdie. He was slightly outside that distance on his birdie putt at the 16th after a tee shot that Watson thought had a chance to be a hole in one.
Watson has hit 28 greens in regulation and 20 of 28 fairways. He has 58 putts, an average of 1.61 per hole. A long, winding birdie at No. 14 was the centerpiece of his putting display.
“After nine years of missing all of them, I’m making a few,” he said. “After the putt at 14, I gave a wave to the crowd and everything but I just tried to … (think) no big deal, let’s just go to the next hole and focus on the next shot. That’s what I have to do. When I do that, I play pretty well.”
Watson’s goal has been to hit fairways and greens, stay out of trouble, and take the opportunities when they arise. He has executed his game plan beautifully so far, but is taking nothing for granted
“It doesn't matter if you won it 42 times in a row, you're still nervous about it,” he said. “That's why I'm keeping my head down, just to stay focused on what I'm doing, not look at leader boards, just play golf. That's really what you're trying to do and what I'm going to try to do the next two days. It might turn out to be horrific, but at least I have that shot at it.”
After a disappointing 2013 season, Watson won the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club earlier this year. But after an opening 83 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, he withdrew citing allergies as the culprit, and had not played tournament golf until this week.
“Playing here at Augusta, there's a lot of people that wished they could play this Tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this Tournament more than once. That's what I have to look at, where I'm at in my life, where I'm at in my career.”
He’s atop the leader board at the Masters Tournament. He’s in Bubba’s world.