Golf's new folk hero stars on a wild Sunday

 Bubba Watson of the United States walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

Bubba Watson of the United States walks up the 18th fairway during the final round of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

Well, that one was different, and if you arrived late to settle in, you missed two-thirds of the greatest (golf) show on earth.

Each year, Sunday at the Masters offers something unexpected. This time the drama started early, with Louis Oosthuizen’s amazing 4-iron into the cup from 253 yards on the par-5 second hole for double eagle. It leapfrogged him over Phil Mickelson and overnight leader Peter Hanson into the lead. Then it was a matter of holding on, which he did better than he will ever get credit for.

The two aces on the 16th hole (by Bo Van Pelt and Adam Scott) added some spice to the show. But nothing came close all day to watching Mickelson’s self-inflicted misery on the par-3 fourth hole, when he made a series of crazy, hasty decisions – the likes of which we haven’t seen since Dustin Johnson triple bogeyed himself out of the U.S. Open in 2010 at Pebble Beach. There’s nothing like watching a meltdown live. Mickelson was lucky to walk away with “only” a 6, and it effectively took him out of the running, even if it also made for a potential back story as he kept knocking on the door the rest of the way.

This wasn’t a day to over-analyze swing technique. Too bad CBS-TV’s Peter Kostis went on an intermittent rampage, repeatedly muttering about the influence of Rae’s Creek on putts – even on holes in the middle of the course. Why bother with technicalities, such as gravity and topography, when you can invoke a down-home Southern reference to an iconic stream?

There were other, far more jarring moments, such as watching an ad for IBM – “Let’s Build a Smarter Planet” – when all week, the backstage talk was about Augusta National’s gender discrimination. The last four IBM chief executives all were offered club memberships, but not (yet) the new one, Virginia Rometty. It was an issue that made headlines and filled op-ed pages elsewhere all week. But why should Jim Nantz spoil his own chances at membership some day by bringing up the issue now? Thus the exquisite irony at the outset of the telecast, when Augusta National vice chairman Joe Ford prattled on about the club’s initiatives to grow the game, all the while ignoring the symbolism inherent in excluding half the human race from membership.

But like all Sunday telecasts, this ultimately was about golf. And what better way to get back to the game’s character than to crown as a winner an unorthodox, free-swinging, teary-eyed homespun boy who never took a golf lesson in his life. Bubba Watson, resplendent in white all week – except when the sun shined through his linen pants – one-upped Sean Foley, Hank Haney, David Leadbetter and all the other swing gurus who made a living teaching their systems. More importantly, he made us forget the travails of one Eldrick Woods, whose game was off and whose demeanor showed none of the lessons he promised us two years ago when he said he had been humbled and would behave honorably on the golf course.

Bubba is now a folk hero, a far more human, transparent and likeable figure than any athletic god or golf idol. The shot he hit on the 10th hole in the playoff from 155 yards out in the middle of the woods might ultimately prove of more historic value than Oosthuizen’s double eagle. There have now been four such double eagles recorded on the par 5s at Augusta National. But no one has seen anything like that hooked iron that Watson hit from nowhere.

The club ought to put a plaque out there and hope that golfers who come by will keep gawking at it. It might also be enough to distract the public from the continued scrutiny the club deserves.

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