Bubba Earns Cheers - and Masters Win

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AUGUSTA, Ga. - He's not exactly a good ol' boy. But Bubba Watson is from the South - Bagdad, Fla., to be exact. And he did go to the University of Georgia. And he does button his golf shirt to the top, for neatness. So if the fans at Augusta National late Sunday afternoon were acting as if they were at, say, a Georgia-Florida game, that was excusable.

"Bubba, Bubba, Bubba," they were chanting. He had just won a playoff for the Masters, and while he was crying, they were screaming, "Bubba, Bubba, Bubba."

He was the home boy whose father had died a couple of years ago and who, along with wife Angie, had adopted a baby a few months ago. And down in Dixie they wouldn't be worked up about things?

The fans - at the Masters they're listed as "patrons'' - were not against the guy Watson beat in the playoff, South African Louis Oosthuizen. They were just enthralled with the way Watson came flying down those famous finishing holes at Augusta National - 13, 14, 15 and 16 - with consecutive birdies.

And it didn't hurt that Bubba is an American, giving the U.S., following Keegan Bradley's PGA Championship last year, its second straight major after non-Americans had won the previous six.

Bubba is a 32-year-old blend of monster drives and emotion. He can hit balls halfway to the moon, or so it seems. That wedge out of the trees on the second extra playoff hole was headed for orbit, but fortunately came down on the green. And he can talk as fast as a ball moves across Augusta's slick greens.

Three shots behind after Oosthuizen made a double-eagle 2, a so-called albatross, by knocking a 260-yard 4-iron into the cup on the par-5 second hole, Watson kept creeping back. And after 72 holes, the two were tied at 10-under-par 278.

Each parred the first playoff hole, the 18th. Then, when Oosthuizen missed the green on the next hole, the 10th, Watson won with a tap-in par.

He began to cry. We did mention emotion, didn't we? And when his mother, Molly, embraced her son, the crowd - sorry, patrons - again bellowed, "Bubba, Bubba, Bubba.'' A nice sound.

"I got a lot of energy from them as I went around,'' said Watson.

He has been one of the top young players. This might be his breakthrough.

"I've been working on keeping my head down, breathing, trying to keep calm,'' said Watson. "Because I get so amped up, so excited. So I'm trying to keep my head down between holes, when everyone is screaming, ‘Go, Dogs,' and yelling, ‘Go, Bubba.'

"I know they are behind me and going for me to make birdies, but it's just I have to do it differently."

Watson finished with a 4-under 68, one shot better for the final round than Oosthuizen, who is as relaxed, or seems to be, as Bubba is jumpy.

"He must have a great feel for the game,'' a gracious Oosthuizen said. "That's really entertaining to play with him, to see the shots he's taking on. ... This is an unbelievable place, and the crowds and the spectators were brilliant."

Watson is the third left-hander to win a Masters, after Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson, who at the start of the day, one shot out of the lead, figured to be the golfer finishing first. But Phil took a triple-bogey at the par-3 fourth, even trying twice to hit balls right-handed, so it was Bubba who was the savior of the southpaws.

Last summer before the British Open, Watson accepted a guarantee to play in the French Open. He missed the cut, then groused there were too many cameras, too many phones and very little security. "It's not a normal tournament," he said.

Then he said he would spend another day sightseeing in Paris, after which he would "get home as fast as possible.'' He took a figurative beating from the European media, which described him as the "new Ugly American.'' That elicited an apology, Watson explaining he was mad at himself for the way he had played.

Now he's elated. And a bit surprised.

"I never got this far in my dreams,'' said Watson. "It's a blessing. I mean, to go home to my new son is going to be fun. I've never had a dream go this far, so I can't say it's a dream come true."

Maybe not, but it's the fulfillment of hard work and very long hitting. Where he gets all that power is hard to explain, but sometimes on drives he'll be 40 yards ahead of his playing partners.

"As an athlete,'' said Watson, asked what it meant to win the Masters,"as a golfer, this is Mecca. This is what we strive for, to put on the green jacket."

Does't it seem appropriate that a man from Bagdad would make a reference to Mecca? Bubba, Bubba, Bubba.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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