Klein: Watson's Masters win, view from the couch
Sunday, April 13, 2014
By Friday night, you knew this was setting up to be a weird Masters. It felt upside down just to have recent major winners Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Jason Dufner and Y.E. Yang all miss the cut while golden oldies such as Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize all qualified for weekend play.
Actually, the feeling was evident during practice rounds, when the course was missing its traditional spring flowering color – blame winter – and the big talk about changes the course had to face with a loblolly pine that was missing from the 17th fairway – the Eisenhower tree, a victim of an ice storm.
So it was left to a sort of rivalry between youth and experience Sunday to make something memorable of the tournament. Notice we didn’t say wisdom, not the way Bubba Watson plays. And with 20-year old Jordan Spieth jumping out to a two-stroke lead after seven holes, it looked like golf might have the new hero it's been looking for since Tiger Woods’ last major victory.
That front nine proved pretty exciting, especially with the two overnight leaders going 2-2 on the two par-3s on the front. It’s doubtful whether anyone had ever set odds for such a feat, let alone collected on the bet. In any case, it was looking like a great two-man race. Then all of a sudden, Spieth got quick with his lower body and Watson started making every putt he looked at, and within the space of two holes, the eighth and ninth, the broadcast was all but over.
It’s a rare Masters when the back nine generates no excitement. The last time anything similar took place was Trevor Immelman’s win in 2008. This time around, all anyone could hope for was that Watson might play himself back to the field by failing to pull off shots he was trying. He does, after all, have a penchant for crazy shotmaking. Nobody who knows the mysteries of Augusta National’s third hole – the short par-4, only 350 yards to a shallow left pin on Sundays – would have counseled him to hit driver off the tee. As I wrote earlier in the week while previewing the hole, it’s a green that can’t be held with a short wedge hit without spin – exactly the shot that Watson had left.
There’s something of the country bumpkin about him. Good thing golfers aren’t required the equivalent of the test NFL teams give prospective rookies before the draft – a Wonderlic test that measures their intelligence – or at least their ability to take this 50-question test. Nobody would mistake Watson for a genius or a tactician. He hits driver when he doesn’t need to, though it helps that when he does and bombs his trademark cut, as he did over the corner of the dogleg on the par-5, 510-yard thirteenth hole Sunday, he’s left with only 144-yards in (you do the math).
He’s reckless in a kind of goofball way, which is certainly more fun than watching Zach Johnson lay up 16 times on par 5s, as he did when winning in 2007 and playing those holes in 11-under par.
Watson takes crazy risks when they are totally unwarranted. He did it again Sunday, on the par-5 15th hole, with his second shot through the trees, over the pond, and halfway to grandma’s house. And why in the world is he hitting driver on the 17th when an iron there would do him just fine? Maybe he just wants to make things exciting.
To his credit, he does have pretty good hands for a creative short game. So when he sheds tears on the 72nd green and holds his 2-year old in hand and gives his wife a hug, well, it all seemed so very country-western and so American. It just didn’t seem enough to make the five-hour show very compelling.