Not to brag or anything, but we at Dawg Sports were on the Bubba Watson bandwagon early. Bubba was being listed here among the Georgia greats as early as January 2008, and we have sung his praises at every turn, whether Bubba was winning the 2010 Travelers Championship or winning the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open or winning the 2011 Zurich Classic, whether he was rapping and dancing in videos or dressing like Bill Murray for the U.S. Open, or whether he was hitting a golf ball out of Sanford Stadium or sparking comment-thread controversies over his driving distance.
We pulled for Bubba in the 2011 Masters and followed him throughout the 2011 U.S. Open before tracking his progress through the initial rounds of this year’s Masters, ultimately devoting Easter Sunday to watching Bubba’s thrilling triumph at Augusta. So, yeah, this is kind of a big moment for all of us.
To put it delicately, Bubba Watson is not your stereotypical PGA Tour golfer. His drives are long, his shots are wild, and he, like Indiana Jones and David Lynch, often appears to be making it up as he goes along, in a profession in which much is made of Tiger Woods’s attention to tape. (How’s that working out for you, Tiger?) Bubba plays golf with a pink driver, his top shirt button securely fastened, and his long hair flowing unkempt from beneath his visor. On the course, his mind wanders, but, at the end of the day, he knows how lucky he is to be playing golf for a living.
Though he does not fit the mold, Bubba is one of us. During his time in Athens, he led the Bulldogs to a 2000 SEC championship in men’s golf and met his wife, Angie, who played basketball for the Red and Black. Even apart from the University of Georgia connection, Bubba is an easy fellow to whom to relate. Through his active Twitter feed, he acquainted fans with the fact that the Watsons became parents 13 days before Bubba won the Masters, as well as letting the world know when his father and namesake, Gerry, died of cancer. The elder Watson was undergoing treatment at the time of his son’s first PGA Tour victory. That initial win came on a playoff, as did two of Bubba’s next three victories; the other was by a single stroke. Since becoming the last player to qualify for the 2006 PGA Tour, Watson has finished fifth at the 2007 U.S. Open and second at the 2010 PGA Championship. The guy knows how to hang in there.
This year, at Augusta, Bubba stuck around all weekend, remaining consistently within striking distance of the fellow who spent most of Sunday looking like he was getting ready to be fitted for a green jacket, Louis Oosthuizen. In fact, the two were neck-and-neck from the get-go: Watson fired a first-round 69 on Thursday, one stroke in back of Oosthuizen’s 68; the two were even after Friday, when Oosthuizen carded a 72, one shot shy of Watson’s 71. Bubba’s Saturday 70 just missed the mark set by Louis with a third-round 69, but Watson caught the South African on Sunday, notching the 68 that pulled him alongside Oosthuizen, whose final-round 69 left the two men tied at 278, ten under par. Phil Mickelson dropped back to the pack, finishing in a four-way tie for third, while Ian Poulter ended up sharing seventh place with his ugly pants and atrocious shoes. Fred Couples skidded to a stop at two under, good for twelfth, and Woods wound up tied for 40th at five over par.
But, in the end, there was Bubba, running Oosthuizen to ground after the Sunday frontrunner lucked into a final-round double-eagle on the selfsame par-five second hole he had parred twice and double-bogeyed once in the first three rounds. On the last 16 holes in regulation, Oosthuizen went for par a dozen times to maintain a two-stroke lead for much of the day while carding as many birdies as bogeys. Watson, in the meantime, bogeyed the first hole of the fourth round, but it was one of just two times he went over par in his final 18 holes en route to his best round of the tournament. When push came to shove, Bubba came up big, posting birdies on four of his last six holes to force a playoff.
The first attempt to settle upon a Masters champion occurred at the par-four 18th, where both men found the bottom of the cup in the allotted number of shots. To the par-four tenth they went, where Watson seemingly set himself up for disaster, gripping it and ripping it to find the woods. Though he pointed, belatedly calling his shot and directing the projectile to the destination he had intended for it, Bubba’s ball came to rest in the pine straw amid the trees, looking for all the world like the kind of shot a guy from the University of Georgia named “Bubba Watson” would hit if, by some fluke of fortune, he ever was given the opportunity to play at Augusta.
Then the damnedest thing happened. Bubba kicked a leaf out of the way, cast a glance at the narrow opening provided him by the artistic landscaping and the parted onlookers, and knocked a shot for the ages to find the green and turn certain defeat into a pretty good chance at victory. For once in his career, though, Bubba took no chances; knowing he had two tries to win, he still lined up his first putt carefully and, after having missed the first shot, hushed the gallery with an upraised hand before tapping in and breaking down at the culmination of a gutsy, championship-worthy performance.
Genuinely emotional in the wake of his stirring victory, Watson spoke simply and from the heart afterwards, and, doubtless distracted by a reality that exceeded his dreams, he inadvertently dissed Billy Payne during a congratulatory handshake gone wrong. That was all right, though, Bubba; as one University of Georgia man to another, I’m sure Billy understood. The rest of us certainly do.