If this turns out to be one of those "The Masters really missed Tiger and Phil" columns, do you promise not to yell and scream and tell me about Bubba Watson's tee shot on 13, and his crazy approach through the trees on 15 and his adorable moment with his son Caleb on the 18th green?
Because – shhhh! – this Masters did miss Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Now, now. That is not to slight Bubba's triumph, his second green jacket in three years, his growing reputation as a man who may not be finished winning amid the cathedral of pines. Given his length, his creativity, his demolition of par-5s and, yes, his left-handedness, he fits the bill at Magnolia Lane.
The bigger problem was the cast of characters around Bubba. This Masters lacked fireworks. That whole "roars amid the pines" thing we get every April? Could have fooled me. The reverential say Augusta National is like a church. It was as quiet as one on the back nine Sunday.
Even Bubba himself shot a mostly ho-hum even-par 36 on the back nine. When he said in Butler Cabin on CBS, "I was telling my caddie, 'I don't even remember the last few holes,' " the rest of us were saying: Neither do we.
Bubba's two closest competitors, Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt, made a grand total of one birdie between them on the back nine Sunday. Spieth shot a desultory 37 on the back nine. Matt Kuchar, who seemed so primed to challenge for his first green jacket, limped home with his own 37 on the back nine. Blixt's back-nine 35 seems electric by comparison.
Rickie Fowler, who was supposed to be Jordan Spieth before Jordan Spieth became Jordan Spieth, opened the day two strokes off the lead and excited his fans for a breakthrough. He turned in a forgettable 73, and a non-threatening 37 on the back nine.
There's a theme here.
As for Rory McIlroy, the two-time major winner we keep waiting to provide more major pyrotechnics? He was last seen obscured by a hedge behind the fourth green sometime on Saturday, kissing his hopes goodbye. Yes, Rors played a nice Sunday round and his 69 got him a tie-8th – his first top-10 ever at the Masters – but he finished eight shots off the lead. So, congrats on that.
Say what you want about Tiger Woods – and believe me, if you read the "Comments" on Yahoo Sports, many of you say what you want – he's become as much a part of the Augusta National landscape as the azaleas, as much a part of the landscape as Rae's Creek, as much a part of the landscape as CBS' Nick Faldo referencing his three Masters wins every five minutes, as if on an egg timer.
And even if he hasn't won a green jacket since 2005(!), he is there on Sunday on the back nine, and he is close to the lead, and he is applying pressure. And you care about him. And even though I was with everyone who said the Masters is bigger than Tiger, that his back surgery and ensuing absence did not mean we would not get a great show, it turned out the show wasn't as good.
Same goes with Phil, who disintegrated into triple-bogey hell on Thursday and Friday and missed the cut. When Phil is around, pressure is applied. Heart rates quicken. Cheers are louder.
That's what was missing on Sunday. The guys assigned to fill his and Tiger's role – Kuchar, Fowler and the boys – dropped the ball. It was so quiet on the back nine, I thought somebody kidnapped the Masters and replaced it with a U.S. Open.
The only guy applying pressure to Bubba was Bubba himself, taking that crazy-aggressive line on 13 with his driver, only to hit the shot of the tournament. Or taking that crazy-aggressive line on 15 when a three-shot lead called for caution. Without Bubba putting on his own show, the 2014 Masters would have been one long view of Jonas Blixt in blue slacks.
Spieth raised our hopes dramatically with his first seven holes. They were daring, gutty, full of panache. They had the mark of a legend in the making. And then he reminded us that he's 20, and golf is 18 holes, not seven, and he got all jittery and jumpy, and we had to put Spieth on the back burner until next time. Surely, he's a comer, but he couldn't deliver on Sunday's back nine.
Nobody could. Except Bubba. Everyone else phoned in his regrets. Come back soon, Tiger and Phil.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
71-70-70-72 – 5-under 283, Jordan Spieth, tie-2nd, The Masters, Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
When 20-year-old Jordan Spieth of Dallas, Texas, walked off the No. 7 green Sunday afternoon at Augusta National Golf Club, it was all the golf world could do to stop from hyperventilating.
A player threatening to become the youngest man to win a major in 92 years, and the youngest ever – younger than Tiger in 1997! – to win a Masters, had just:
• Made a lovely par on No. 1 after missing the fairway left.
• Birdied No. 2 to take the Masters lead and strutted to the third tee.
• Jarred a bunker shot on the incredibly difficult fourth hole for birdie to keep his Masters lead at two strokes over Watson.
• Survived a bogey on No. 5 by rifling his tee shot on No. 6 to kick-in length for another birdie.
• And birdied No. 7 by making a tricky downhill putt, keeping his lead at two strokes with only 11 holes left.
It was scintillating. It was historic. It was premature jubilation.
Everything – history, pressure, nerves, the golf course – conspired from there. Spieth played the last 11 holes in 3-over par, including a rinsing of a tee shot into Rae's Creek on No. 12, a sort of baptism of pain, if you will, for the first-time Masters participant.
But an argument can be made that Spieth's runner-up was as memorable, or more, than Bubba's win. This was crazy good golf from a player not legally old enough to drink his Arnold Palmer with vodka. He made McIlroy seem ancient, Fowler seem irrelevant and Patrick Reed seem full of bluster – and none of them is 25 years old yet.
The larger point is, with Tiger on the mend and Phil about to turn 44, the face of the game is changing and the face of the game could very well be Jordan Spieth, and soon. Clearly, his biggest weakness right now is handling the adrenaline. Even before his Sunday at the Masters, he'd shown signs at other PGA Tour stops of Sunday jitters, of the moment reminding him that maturity is an acquired trait.
But, oh, the possibilities once he reigns his emotions. Those first seven holes, when he lit the sports world on fire, is the bar he set. It's up to him now to keep reaching for it. After his round, he said all the right things, that his silver medal left him "hungry … I think I'm ready to win a major." He has us excited for Pinehurst's U.S. Open. Final pairing of Spieth and Phil Mickelson, anyone?
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Out to No. 9 on Sunday, where Spieth is licking his wounds after an inexplicable bogey on the par-5 No. 8. He's seen Bubba birdie No. 8 and pull into a tie for the lead. OK, dead heat, 10 holes to play. Let's boogie, right?
Spieth hit a good drive, not as far as Bubba's, but what else is new? From the fairway, he's got iron in his hand and a knowledge of Augusta National history – mainly, don't get snookered by the false front on No. 9. Whatever you do, don't leave it short and watch that little white orb trickle down the hill, back towards you.
And Spieth … underclubbed and left it short. His golf ball trickled down the hill, back toward him. In the CBS booth, Jim Nantz was quick to say: "Shades of '96," and the boys in the video truck rolled footage of Greg Norman's brush with the false front on No. 9, the point where he really started leaking oil and surrendered that certain green jacket to Nick Faldo.
Unable to get up and down for par, Spieth hitched a ride on the bogey train to the 10th tee, having surrendered the lead and the magic.
Moral of the story: Any time you hit a shot on Sunday at the Masters that causes CBS to call up footage of Greg Norman in 1996, it's not a good thing.
So let's go back out to the ninth fairway, remind Spieth that he absolutely must not leave it short, he absolutely must remember the ghost of Greg Norman, that if he could lock horns with Bubba onto the back nine instead of playing catch-up that we'd have a heck of a drama and … give that man a mulligan!
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"You're looking at a complicated man … a creative golfing genius … fearless…" – Jim Nantz, CBS, narrating Bubba Watson's triumphant walk with his son Caleb off the 18th green Sunday.
That he is, Jim. That he is.
There are things about Bubba Watson that make it hard to love him. Whether it's a somewhat rude dismissal of non-American culture on a trip to France, or complaining about the U.S. Open course setup at the Olympic Club when he should be on a public relations post-Masters high, or, most notably, barking at fans and his caddie seemingly any chance he gets, Bubba is, to use Nantz's word, "complicated."
And yet, the "creative genius" part is undeniable, as well. His use of driver on 13, and his wedge over the trees on 15 – two unforgettable shots, two crazy brave swings – show that there's really no one like him out there. Nobody plays the game like him, and nobody is "Bubba Long" like him.
He's now a two-time winner of the Masters, and that puts him in some tall cotton. Go down the list of two-time winners of the Masters and try to find me a fluke. Ben Hogan won two. Bubba's tied with him. Seve Ballesteros won two. Bubba's tied with him. Tom Watson won two. Bubba's tied with him. You get my point.
He will remain complicated and creative, and it will be up to us to process him.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
We say it every year, and we mean it: Shhhh! Pass the Advil and the ice pack. It's hangover week. It's the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town. It's the post-Masters recovery. Bubba will not be there, but Spieth will, as will defending champ Graeme McDowell and, of all people, Nick Faldo, playing. Maybe he should wear his three green jackets to remind us. Bubba's only one behind, Sir Nick.
- Sports & Recreation
- Bubba Watson
- The Masters
- Jordan Spieth
- Tiger Woods
- Augusta National