Once again, the Masters gave us the most splendid theater and incredible golf.
3 time winner and most beloved of the Augusta faithful, Phil Mickelson made a disastrous triple bogey 6 on the par 3, 4th hole. His second triple bogey of the tournament would be too much to overcome. He fought back valiantly and finished tied for third at 8 under par, which would be two shots out of the lead. That he was a factor at all though, is testament to the enormous talent of this erstwhile star.
Former US Amateur Champion Matt Kuchar made a strong run and was briefly tied for the lead after an inspired eagle-3 on the 15th hole before a bogey on the next would eliminate the likeable Georgian.
Former world #1 player, Lee Westwood contended again in a Major Championship. The Englishman may be the most consistently fine ball striker in the world today, but his putter seems to let him down, whenever he needs it the most. Westwood would lead the Masters in greens in regulation but be third from last in putting. Sadly this continues to be the rule rather than the exception with Westwood, although surely his time must come to win his first Major.
Overnight leader, Peter Hanson, struggled early on and overcame the most dreaded of all shots, an out and out shank on the 12th hole, to finish in a tie for third at 8 under. Hanson’s play was remarkable in that he was able to overcome the most embarrassing of all shots in the greatest theater, to finish the way that he did. This was Hanson’s first taste of Major Championship pressure and it would not be as surprise to see him contend in future Majors.
In the end it came down to two men.
Louis Oosthuizen , with a swing like melted butter, and an unflappable demeanor, would simply not be denied. Oosthuizen’s day got off to a sensational start when he made a double-eagle, 2 on the par 5 second hole which took him straight to the top of the leaderboard where he would remain for the rest of the day.
The South African who won the British Open two years ago in a runaway by seven shots has firmly stamped himself as one of the premier players in the game today. Playing an almost flawless final round, Oosthuizen was almost clinical in his dissection of Augusta. The quiet South African is the son of farming people and owns an almost flawless swing and an even better putting stroke. He demonstrated such calm under the most enormous pressure, culminating with a courageous 5 foot putt for par on the final hole of regulation play to record a 72 hole score of 278 (10 under par).
America’s ‘other’ great lefty is Bubba Watson. Watson is a complete throwback as a player. He does not have a swing coach or a ‘team’, preferring to work on his unique swing and game, on his own. He hits the ball as far as anyone in the world and may be the best shot-maker in golf today, if not of all time. Often times the colorful, and aptly named Bubba, has been his own worst enemy. He is a source of constant movement which becomes more pronounced as a tournament comes to an end. He freely admits how nervous he is, and that he needs to work on that (very few other players would be that honest about their emotions).
Watson was 4 shots back before storming to the lead with birdies on 13, 14, 15 and 16, then making pars on the last two holes to finish tied with Oosthuizen at 10 under par.
Oosthuizen and Watson could not be more completely different in personality, swing and demeanor, as the playoff would demonstrate.
On the first playoff hole, wailing away with his upright and loose swing, Watson drove his tee shot on the difficult 18th hole, an astonishing 320 yards uphill, while Oosthuizen elegantly hit his driver into the middle of the fairway. Oosthuizen then played a lovely 7 iron to 16 feet right of the flag, while Watson hit a wedge (yes, a wedge) that carried long but spun back to be inside the South African and give him 9 feet for his birdie. Oosthuizen barely missed his birdie putt on the right edge of the hole while Watson missed his putt on the left edge of the hole.
The second playoff was far more exciting. Bubba managed to hook his pink driver, 40 yards into the trees on the 10th hole, while the unflappable Louis, finally, flapped and hit his 3 wood 30 yards right but it hit a tree and then ricocheted back to almost the fairway. Oosthuizen then hit his approach shot to the front of the green. Watson was in the trees, 155 yards from the hole and hit one of “those” shots. He hooked a wedge 30 yards around more trees and finished an amazing 14 feet below the hole. Oosthuzien’s chip ran past the hole 13 feet and he barely missed his par putt, leaving Watson with two putts to win. Two putts later, Bubba Watson became a Major Champion.
The man who wears his heart so openly on his sleeve then broke down, first in an embrace with his caddy, and then his Mother before a host of his fellow players celebrated, with this most unorthodox of players.
Golf needs you Bubba, and we celebrate your success. May this be the first of many.