Bubba Watson masters a major, wins at Augusta

Posted: April 08, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. - It took nearly eight decades, but a Bubba finally won the South's indelible gift to golf.

So maybe they'll have to hold next year's Champions Dinner over at the Sticky Fingers off Bobby Jones Parkway.

On another brilliant afternoon on which Augusta National again showed why it'll forever remain the most compelling theater on the food chain, an emotional, 33-year-old former Georgia Bulldog, who'd pretty much just been hanging around for the better part of 3 days, shot 4-under par on the final nine holes of regulation, including four straight birdies, then beat 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with a two-putt par at No. 10. It was his fourth professional win. His first major and, of course, green jacket, which seemed to go well with that all-white ensemble he wore for the fourth straight time.

It's the kind of victory that figures to connect with the patrons here and throughout the game.

You think he'll remember this Easter?

Watson, who lost the 2010 PGA Championship in a three-hole playoff to Martin Kaymer, becomes the fifth lefthander to lift the trophy here since 2003. Of course, Phil Mickelson, who started the fourth round one off the lead coming off Saturday's 66, earned three of them. But Watson, who opened with a bogey and whose 68 was his low score of the week, is probably the first from either side to do it using a pink driver.

When it was over, Watson shared a long hug with his caddie, Ted Scott. Then his mom, Molly, who lost her husband to cancer some 18 months ago, joined the celebration. Later, one of the PGA Tour's more popular players received congratulations from a number of friends/competitors who'd stuck around to watch. It was worth the wait.

"I never got this far in my dreams," Watson said through moist eyes in Butler Cabin afterward.

He and his wife Angie recently welcomed son Caleb, who they adopted, into their life.

"It's a blessing," he said. "I'm going home to [them]. It's going to be fun.

"They're on my mind, for sure."

Looking at the leaderboard, most people felt it would turn into another Phil kind of day. But he took a triple bogey at the fourth hole, his second in 49 holes, and could never fully recover. Peter Hanson, looking to become the first Swede to win a major, had a 1-shot, 54-hole lead but didn't make a birdie until the 15th. By then he'd dropped three strokes, and a 73 would leave him two back of Watson and Oosthuizen at the end, at 8-under 280, with Mickelson (72), Lee Westwood (68), who still hasn't won a major in 56 tries, and Georgia Tech's Matt Kuchar (69).

"I had my chance," Mickelson said. "I just couldn't get it done. That's certainly disappointing. I'm not satisfied just being in contention. But I had a great time today. Having the opportunity to compete on Sunday, in the last group with a chance to win the Masters on a beautiful day at Augusta, that's what's fun."

Kuchar, who had never finished higher than sixth in a major, actually pulled into a brief tie for the lead with an eagle at 15, but Oosthuizen, playing with Watson in the next-to-last group, birdied that hole while Matt was bogeying 16. Other than that, there was a lot going on. Yet it ultimately came down to two.

Watson, who is from the Florida Panhandle, pulled even with a short bird at 16. They both parred 17, where Watson's birdie try just missed and Oosthuizen made a sand save. At 18, where each split the fairway, Oosthuizen had to make a 5-footer to keep it going. They would head back to 18 to start over. Oosthuizen just slid by the right side from 18 feet, and Watson missed to the left from half that distance. So they moved on to the 10th.

Both found the trees right. From there, Oosthuizen ended up short of the green. Watson, who somehow was left with an opening, hooked a wedge from 155 yards off the pine straws to about 10 feet. Oosthuizen's chip went long to the back fringe. And when his par try again barely missed to the right, all Watson needed to do was leave himself a gimme.

Is there any better feeling than having a tap-in to change your world?

"I'm pretty good at hooking it," Watson said of his approach. "I had to hook it 40 yards. I was there earlier today, so I was used to it. I knew what I was facing, and I had a good lie. Somehow I nestled it up there close."

Later, at the official ceremony by the clubhouse, he nearly broke down again.

"To all my fans I've got to say, 'Go Dawgs . . . ' " he said. "This day means so much more than putting on that green jacket, in many ways. Somehow it fell into my hands. It's amazing. It's a blur. I don't remember the last nine holes."

It's the first time since 1990 that the winner wasn't either first or second with 18 to go. And only the third time in that span, but second straight, that your champ didn't come from the last twosome.

Oosthuizen, who'd missed the cut in his three previous Masters trips, made history on No. 2 when he rolled in a 4-iron from some 250 yards out for a double eagle/albatross 2, the first ever made on that hole and just the fourth in Masters history. The most famous, of course, was Gene Sarazen's with a 4-wood on 15 in 1935. This one gave the 29-year-old South African a lead he would keep until that final putt.

"It was a great day," said Oosthuizen, who was trying to become the third man from his country to win here in the last 5 years. "I had a lot of fun. I can't say I felt I played badly. Great stuff to [Watson]. He deserved it."

He'll get no arguments.

Now would somebody please pass that barbecue.

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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