By Joe Juliano The Philadelphia Inquirer
AUGUSTA, Ga. — To hear Bubba Watson speak, he’s someone from a small town in the Florida panhandle who has no business winning one green jacket at the Masters, let alone two in a three-year span.
But there Watson was once again Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club with a chance to win another Masters, this time playing in the final group with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, a young man who seems destined to win several majors before he’s finished.
This was Watson’s day. He spotted Spieth a couple of shots early, then picked up 4 strokes with back-to-back birdies in a two-hole stretch midway through the round and sprinted home to become the 17th player in history to win at least two Masters.
The long-hitting Watson, 35, posted a sparkling 3-under-par 69 — his third subpar round of the week — over the firm and quick course and a final score of 8-under 280, 3 strokes clear of Spieth and fellow Masters rookie Jonas Blixt.
Winning two Masters green jackets is an infrequent occurrence in golf and surely reserves Watson’s place with the greats of the game, even if he has never taken a lesson. At least, while most people believe that, he does not.
“I got lucky enough to have two green jackets,” Watson said. “I’m just trying to keep my tour card every year. If people say I’m a good player, that’s great. But I’m not trying to play golf for a living for everybody to tell me how great I am, or that I’m one of the greats of the game.
“I play golf because I love it. The game has brought me everything that I’ve owned in my life. My parents taught me values through golf. That’s why I played it. I love it. Every day is different.”
And even though the result was a foregone conclusion when he tapped in for par at his final hole, Watson still cried when he hugged his caddie, his wife, and his 2-year-old son, Caleb.
“It’s a dream to win,” he said. “Winning any tournament is a big deal. Winning the green jacket is a little bit bigger deal. So yeah, I’m going to cry, because, why me? Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla.? Why is he winning? So I just always ask the question, why me?”
Sunday’s drama, which is normally saved for the back nine, actually took place this time on the front nine and involved two men who chatted amicably the entire day.
Watson holed critical birdie putts at two par-3s, No. 4 and No. 6, that he needed just to match Spieth’s scores on the holes. When Spieth rolled in a downhill 12-footer for birdie at the seventh, he held a 2-stroke lead.
But a seismic shift in the scoring came on the eighth, a par-5, and the par-4 ninth. Watson picked up birdies with putts of four feet and 15 feet and Spieth carded bogeys — a 3-putt at 8 and a 5-foot miss at 9. What was a 2-stroke deficit had become a 2-stroke lead for the 2012 Masters champion.
“I felt like I was still playing solid golf,” Spieth said. “Although there were two 2-stroke swings because Bubba played them so well, I didn’t feel any rush or any kind of extra tension. I still felt confident going into the back nine.”
Spieth drew a stroke closer after Watson bogeyed 10, and he had a 10-foot birdie putt that could have tied him at the 11th but didn’t fall. However, at the treacherous par-3 12th, Spieth hit his tee ball into Rae’s Creek and made bogey to fall 2 behind, and Watson’s birdie at 13 made it a 3-stroke gap.
The margin would not change as each player matched pars on the final five holes. Blixt, of Sweden, had a solid round of two birdies and one bogey but never got closer than 2 strokes on the back nine.
Watson said he told Spieth, “You’re a great talent and you’re going to have a lot more opportunities.” But when his next opportunity came at the Masters, Watson pulled off another victory, even if he seemed to have trouble believing it.
“Small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets,” he said. “It’s pretty wild.”