Bubba Watson used a steady putter and prodigious drives to overcome 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and win his second Masters Tournament title in fewer attempts than any golfer since Arnold Palmer 54 years ago.
Watson, 35, shot a 3-under-par 69 yesterday, taking fewer putts than all but two players in the field to pull away for a three-stroke win at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. He finished with a four-round total of 8 under 280, preventing Spieth from becoming the youngest player to win one of the sport’s four major championships since 1931. Spieth and fellow Masters rookie Jonas Blixt of Sweden finished 5 under par.
Watson, born in Bagdad, Florida, is the 17th golfer to claim multiple Masters titles, and only Horton Smith, who captured the first and third tournaments in 1934 and 1936, got two wins in fewer attempts. Palmer, like Watson, won the second of his four Masters titles in his sixth attempt in 1960.
“A small town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets, it’s pretty wild,” Watson, said after being presented with the ceremonial blazer given to Masters champions.
Watson, who entered yesterday’s final round tied for the lead with Spieth at 5 under, receives $1.62 million for his sixth career win. He rebounded from a third-round 74 to equal the largest margin of victory at the Masters since a 12-stroke win by Tiger Woods in 1997. Watson started crying as he hugged his caddie after his final putt for a par on the 18th green.
Watson then scooped up his 2-year-old son, Caleb, in his arms and embraced his wife Angie before taking a celebratory lap around the green and slapping hands with fans. Watson’s wife wasn’t in attendance for his win in 2012, as the couple had adopted Caleb two weeks before the tournament.
“Playing this way was a lot easier coming down the last few holes, especially the last hole, knowing that I had a couple shots to play with,” said Watson, who won the 2012 Masters in a playoff when he hooked an approach shot from deep in the magnolia trees off the 10th hole that landed on the green to save a championship-winning par. “The shot out of the woods made me famous, but this one was a lot better for me and my nerves and my family.”
Watson made five birdies yesterday, including two in a row at the eighth and ninth holes, where he went from two shots behind Spieth to two shots ahead. Spieth had started the round with birdies on three of the first seven holes, including holing out from a bunker on the par-3 fourth hole.
“I got off to a kind of dream start for Sunday at Augusta,” Spieth said. “It’s so hard to play the first seven holes well out here and I was 3 under. If you told me that when I woke up, I’d tell you it was difficult for me to not win. Holes eight and nine were the turning points of the day.”
Spieth still trailed by only one stroke before making a bogey at the par-3 12th hole -- the middle of a three-hole stretch known as Amen Corner -- when his tee shot rolled back into Rae’s Creek in front of the green.
Watson pushed his lead to three strokes with another birdie at the par-5 13th, where he hit a sand wedge for his second shot after a drive around the dogleg on the 510-yard hole that Spieth said was probably 100 yards past his tee shot. Watson, with his self-taught swing and pink driver, led the tournament field in driving distance with a 306-yard average.
Rickie Fowler, who tied fellow American Matt Kuchar for fifth place at 2 under par, two shots behind Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, was the first player to congratulate Watson on the win after the round.
“There’s nobody else that can really play the way he does,” Fowler, one of Watson’s closest friends on the PGA Tour, told reporters. “It’s his own style for sure. And this place happens to suit him quite well.”
Watson finished his round with five straight pars, including one at the par-5 15th where he punched a 6-iron under overhanging trees and over a pond instead of playing safe and taking a potential penalty out of play. When his caddie, Ted Scott, was asked to describe Watson’s unconventional style of play known as “Bubba Golf,” he called it a “freakshow.”
“You can’t describe it any other way,” Scott said behind the Augusta National clubhouse. “Every single time I watch him play golf, I’m just like, ‘How do you do that?’”
Watson said he doesn’t remember the last few holes, other than trying to hang on and make pars.
After being presented the green jacket for a second time, Watson said while the first title felt like a bit of luck, the second was a product of hard work and dedication.
In his Masters return as champion a year ago, Watson said he was overwhelmed by the media and fan expectations that put his every move under scrutiny. He made the cut for weekend play by a single stroke and ended up tying for 50th place, his worst finish in five Masters appearances.
This year, Watson said he felt far more comfortable, free from the demands of being the reigning champion.
Spieth, after rounds of 71, 70 and 70, closed with a 72 and came up short in his attempt to supplant Woods the youngest champion in the Masters’ 78-year history. Woods was 21 when he won the first of his four titles in 1997.
“It stings right now, and the only thing I’m thinking about is, ‘When am I getting back next year?’” said Spieth, who recorded his first win as a rookie last season and had entered the week 13th in the Official World Golf Ranking, one spot behind Watson. “I’ve worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it’s very early in my career, and I’ll have more chances, it’s a stinger. I had it in my hands, and I just didn’t quite make the putts.”
Spieth was also trying to join Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 as the only first-time participant to win the Masters since Smith and Gene Sarazen captured the first two titles.
While Blixt matched Spieth at 5 under in his Masters debut, he never got closer than one stroke of the lead during the final round after the second hole. Blixt, who shot three straight rounds of 71 after a first-round 70, joined Zoeller as the second Masters rookie with all four rounds under par.
Only seven of the 51 players to make the cut finished below par, including Lee Westwood of England, who was 1 under.
Adam Scott, who claimed Australia’s first Masters title a year ago, tied for 14th at 1 over, one shot behind a group that included Rory McIlroy and Bernhard Langer. Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, shot a final-round 75 to finish 3 over.
While 14 players were within five strokes of Watson entering the final round at Augusta National, none of them could keep pace.
“I do what it takes to make the score,” Watson said. “I don’t care how pretty it is, I don’t care if it’s ugly, I don’t care if it’s out of the woods. I just want to make a score. Lucky for me, I’ve done it a couple times around this place.”