There has always been an element of spontaneity with regard to Bubba Watson, 35, the most unpredictable player in golf’s elite ranks, who is among only 17 players to win multiple Masters titles, writes Steve Elling.
Masters winner Watson sets up shop at ‘Bubba Cabin’
Crazy enough that Bubba Watson hits towering golf shots that defy convention and belief. Without fail, his tee shots make people blink. Yet do our ears deceive as well?
Moments after the power-hitting American claimed his second Masters title, again in vintage style, Watson was summoned to the Augusta National bungalow called the Butler Cabin for the awkward annual ceremony in which the club hands the famed green jacket to the winner.
During the presentation, which was broadcast live around the world, more than a few television viewers were certain that the club chairman Billy Payne – his Southern drawl muting the words somewhat – called it the “Bubba Cabin” instead.
Perhaps it was no slip of the tongue.
Spontaneity has always been part of Watson’s make-up; he ranks as the most unpredictable player in golf’s elite ranks.
On Sunday night, after turning roars into snores on the back nine with a series of bombastic tee shots and uncharacteristically crisp execution, Watson became the 17th player to win the Masters multiple times.
The other 16 – including golfing greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead – are enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“At the age of 35, with six wins, two of them being major championships, and joining this list as a two-time Masters champions, you start to look at Bubba Watson as a totally different player,” the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo said.
Actually, he remains the same player, albeit on a different level.
As he did in 2012, when he hit one of the tournament’s defining shots to win in a play-off, Watson mashed the Masters into submission with shots that few others would attempt, much less have the firepower and creativity to execute.
The PGA Tour’s driving-distance leader hit a 360-yard drive on the par-5 13th hole, leaving only a wedge for his second shot. He carved a high-risk approach shot through the trees on the 15th, sending analysts into near fits, since the green is fronted by water and the decision was needlessly risky.
Watson shrugs and calls it Bubba Golf. It should come with a warning label: Do not try this at home.
Watson plays golf as though it is a video game, his most marketable feature. No question, in both his play and personality, Watson can be skittish and wildly unpredictable. Indeed, he makes fellow left-hander and three-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson look like a metronome.
“I have some issues,” Watson said last week.
He has some assets, too. Nobody knows which will rule the day, which is why many, including Sky Sports analyst Colin Montgomerie, predicted that he would struggle under duress on Sunday.
After all, Watson had converted a mere one of seven chances when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead, but on the back nine at Augusta, he never let anybody into the fight, keeping Masters rookies Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt easily at bay to win by three strokes.
Watson absolutely earned it: no finisher in the top 13 posted a lower Sunday score than his 3-under 69.
This is not just an Augusta affair, either. Remember, he lost the 2010 PGA Championship in a play-off. Thus, a player once viewed as a one-trick pony, known almost exclusively for his prodigious drives, has fashioned quite a resume, if horses are the proper comparative animal.
Watson used a simian simile a few years back to describe his basic appeal.
“Watch the monkey hit the ball,” he said.
For years, it was monkey see, monkey don’t. Incredibly, Watson turned pro in 2003 and didn’t win on either the PGA or its developmental tour until July 2010. Almost inexplicably, he has claimed two majors in a span of 24 months.
It is not so much a reinvention as a refinement. But, as ever, Watson is a complicated character and uneven edges remain.
Three weeks ago, in his new hometown of Orlando, Florida, in his last start before Augusta, Watson shot 83 in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, claimed he was having allergy problems, withdrew and slinked home.
Watson’s new abode happens to be the former home of Tiger Woods and, between the two players, it has housed 16 major-championship trophies since 1997.
On a comparative scale, that real-estate transaction has become a trivial footnote.
After all, Watson has set up shop in the Bubba Cabin, the most affluent address in the sport.
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