If anyone in the entire field of the 76th Masters should have been dumbstruck, immobilized and incapacitated by Oosthuizen’s historic and almost unbelievable double eagle at the 575-yard par-5 second hole on Easter Sunday, it should have been Watson, who played with “West-hi-zen” and took the full impact of his two, his deuce, on the jaw.
Instead, Watson, who fell four shots behind at that hole, proved that four birdies in a row, at the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes, can neutralize even a 3-under-par albatross. No such thing is supposed to happen after a nearly unprecedented shot — a 235-yard 4-iron that spun dead sideways and trickled 60 feet into the hole on the last turn. In the first Masters, Gene Sarazen’s double eagle on the 15th hole was the margin of victory and one of the original pieces of lore that helped make the Masters so famous.
Watson, from the University of Georgia, caught the crisp, precise South African after 70 holes at 10 under. Then the lefty Watson, who dressed in white head to toe all week, beat Oosthuizen on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with a stupendously powerful recovery shot which he hooked through a tunnel in the Georgia pinewoods. For degree-of-difficultly in the elite golf world, it easily outstripped the double eagle.
Before his final winning six-inch putt, Watson called for silence and a moment to compose himself. His feelings run so high, so close to the surface, that it wasn’t entirely a joke. Only a month ago, he and his wife Angie adopted their first child, Caleb. Everybody loves Watson, a natural-born blubberer. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, except when they slip down to his wrist. He cries if his eggs are cooked right.
“I never got this far in my dreams,” said a red-eyed Watson, whose late father was in the U.S. Special Forces. Typical of Watson, he told Oosthuizen after his double eagle, “I’d have run over and given you a high-five, but it wouldn’t have looked right.”
If Oosthuizen landed a roundhouse at No. 2, where Watson made a birdie, yet still dropped two shots, then Watson’s recovery after one of his 50-yard-offline drives, did equivalent damage on the second playoff hole. Oosthuizen couldn’t get up and down from 20 feet off the front of the green, a basic shot for him, and Watson needed only two gently nudged putts to win.
“I don’t even remember it all. I was nervous on every shot,” said Watson. “Then I hit a crazy shot [on 10] I saw in my head and here I am talking to you in a green jacket.”
Even though there were trees and a tower to avoid, Watson’s caddie said, “We’ve been here before.” Watson laughed. Call him Marco Polo, he discovers points unknown.
“Bubba hit an unbelievable shot there [in the playoff]. Great stuff to him . . . It looked like a curveball coming out of there,” said Oosthuizen, a close friend of fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, last year’s green jacket winner.
“When you hit a shot like that — my first double eagle ever — you think, ‘This is it,’ ” said Oosthuizen.
Yet it wasn’t. On the first playoff hole, he barely missed an 18-foot birdie putt before Watson missed a mere 10-footer for his own. “I don’t think I could have hit two better putts in the playoff,” he said of his birdie and par efforts that failed.
The real victim of Oosthuizen’s early magic was another lefty, Phil Mickelson. He’d just moved into a tie for the lead at the first green when an enormous roar exploded from the second green. Players know how to translate the language of cheers here. But this was an entirely new tongue. What could such a humongous ruckus mean?
As Mickelson and third-round leader Peter Hanson walked to the second tee, the red “7” by Oosthuizen’s name transformed into a red “10.” Suddenly, just when this day seemed to be shaped perfectly for him, Mickelson was two shots behind. So composed in recent years, Phil reverted. Not for long, but too long for a fourth green jacket.
At the brutal 240-yard par-3 fourth hole, he may have cost himself a spot in this playoff, turning what probably should have been a bogey into a hideous triple bogey. After slicing far left into weeds behind bleachers, Mickelson slashed at two ugly shots righthanded — one moved a few inches, the other almost hit his own leg — before dumping a flop shot into a trap. He got up and down, but that glimpse of Old Phil, so seldom seen, was haunting when he ended up tied for third two shots behind.
Afterward, Watson was his most soft-hearted open self, drawing laughs by saying “Oh, I dreamt about winning the Masters but I just never made the putt.” More important to him, less than two weeks ago, he and Angie adopted their son. “We knew when we were married that she couldn’t have children,” said Watson. The couple was turned down twice. This time they got their little boy.
“I haven’t changed a diaper yet,” said Watson, who looked like he couldn’t wait.
Watson will always be remembered as the man who saw the albatross up close and then overcame the single most devastating shot in his sport — one shot better than watching your foe make a hole-in-one. No, I didn’t see it. I was one hole away with Mickelson. But the couple of thousand people who did see it will never forget it.
“Unbelievable, just unbelievable,” said 63-year-old Ranny Reynolds from Reston, with his wife Ulli. “Oosthuizen was outdriven by 30 yards by Bubba Watson. We thought he was going to lay up, like most of them had done all day.
“But he hit it through the opening in the middle of the green. It was weird. The ball turned dead right and went wandering down, wandering down — took forever — until it dropped in.”
All day, you suspected, you almost knew, that the last roll of Oosthuizen’s deuce would be the deciding inch. Some shots are so shockingly memorable, super-charged with a mix of talent and luck that they seem ordained to prevail. Yet this one didn’t. That’s why Watson’s win moves far higher in the Masters pantheon. He saw it. He took the blow. And he kept chasing until Oosthuizen, who never faltered, had been caught.
That makes him an ideal Masters winner, that and one other quirk. It took 76 years, but the ultimate all-Bubba club finally has a Bubba for its champion.
For more columns from Thomas Boswell, see washingtonpost.com/boswell.