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MASTERS TOURNAMENT | IN REVIEW

Paul Prendergast reflects on the brilliance of Bubba Watson at last month’s Masters Tournament, a win that catapulted the unpredictable American into the company of a select group of golfers.

AFP

Bubba Watson’s shot-making genius – and a hot putter – landed him a second Masters title in three years 52

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of golf that was more clinical than the cavalier approach we’ve come to expect. “I just kept ... hard work, even though it doesn’t look like I practice that much,” Watson said moments after donning his second green jacket, the tears never far away. “Hard work, my wife’s dedication. We worked out schedules how I can practice at a high level, if it’s just 30 minutes, just an hour, then come back and be a dad and a husband.” Scoffing at any suggestion this comeback win validates his status as an elite player, Watson was more realistic in assessing his achievement. “No. I got lucky enough to have two green jackets but I’m just trying to win my tour card every year and if people say that I’m a good player, that’s great. But I’m not. I’m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I’m one of the greats of the game.” Scoff he may but he would have to concede even privately that he played brilliantly during the week and especially so on Sunday, winning his second Masters title at the age 35 to join Horton Smith, Jimmy Demaret and Arnold Palmer as two-time champions in six starts or less.

AFP

Jordan Spieth (top) raced into the lead early on Sunday before becoming unglued with back-to-back bogeys at the eighth and ninth holes; four-time Hong Kong Open champion Miguel Angel Jiménez (opposite) shot himself into title contention with a brilliant third-round 66

ubba Watson’s approach to golf straddles the fine line that exists between the sublime and the ridiculous. A homespun golf swing, heart-on-sleeve oncourse personality, aggressive shot-making and that garish pink driver have helped establish the public persona of Watson, a unique entity in the game with as much natural talent as anyone. Juggling his new responsibilities as a Masters champion following his 2012 triumph, just days after becoming a parent for the first time, provided new challenges for the emotionally charged Watson to contend with. Trying to be all things to an expectant golfing public and press while trying to be the best father and husband he could took its toll, and at times that was reflected in his demeanour on the golf course and in the public eye. But credit to the man: Watson’s respect for the game and its heritage never wavered and through hard work, self analysis and a greater balance in life, he has re-invented himself, winning the Masters Tournament with a display

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Watson’s three-under-par 69 playing in the final group gave him a 72-hole score of eightunder 280, three strokes better than playing partner Jordan Spieth who had shared the overnight lead with him heading into Sunday. Over the first seven holes of the final round, 20year old Spieth was looking near untouchable in his bid to become the youngest Masters winner and only the second to win on debut, with early birdies tempered only by a bogey on five. When Watson hit close, Spieth either hit it closer or came up with something dramatic, like holing a bunker shot on the demanding fourth, to maintain the edge over his older opponent. The mind raced back to 2011 when a 21-year old Rory McIlroy lead the field into the back nine only to implode in spectacular fashion to shoot 80. How would 2014’s young gun fare on the back nine, as the childhood dream of being in this moment becomes a glaring reality? We cou ld on ly contemplate t h i s a s, unfortunately, Spieth began to unravel before the back nine even started. An untidy pitch and three-putt bogey at the par-5 eighth was followed by the commitment of the cardinal sin in coming up short with his approach at the ninth for a second consecutive dropped shot. The two Spieth bogeys were countered by two birdies from Watson, a four-stroke swing and the turning point in the respective mindsets of both players. Spieth had a minor win with a scrambling par to Watson’s bogey at the 10th but compounded his earlier errors by finding the bank on 12 and spinning back into Rae’s Creek on his way to another bogey. From there on, Spieth had his work cut out to regroup mentally. The outcome of the tournament was in Watson’s hands and specifically, when he had the driver in hand. When Watson is ‘on’ with his biggest stick in the bag, the rest of the field must feel like they’re wading knee deep in mud trying to keep up. It was especially true on this Sunday, which Watson – a left-hander with the most powerful of power fades – conceded fits his eye perfectly. February’s ice storms may have destroyed Ike’s Tree and thinned out many others in its wake but they were Watson’s ally this week. The champion noted there was more room “at the top of some trees” than previously which helped him feel more comfortable with the tee shots on seven, 11 and 18 [holes that for him traditionally require a draw] where he has notoriously struggled. Pe r h a p s o n l y a p l ay e r o f Wa t s o n ’s flamboyance and ball striking prowess could identify an advantage to be had in having less foliage in the upper reaches of mature pines. Nowhere else than Augusta National do the corridors of trees framing each hole, coupled HKGOLFER.COM

Since his first green jacket in 2012, Watson has re-invented himself, winning the Masters Tournament with a display of golf that was more clinical than the cavalier approach we’ve come to expect. with the undulation and shape of the fairways, suit Watson more from the tee. Tempering his normal aggression, Watson took apart the golf course by hitting his ‘slice’ driver with regularity, sliding the ball between the trees and taking advantage of the right-to-left cant of the fairways. A golf course long regarded as favouring the right-handed drawer of the ball has now yielded its sixth left-handed winner – following Phil Mickelson in 2004, 2006 and 2010 and Mike Weir in 2003 – in the past 12 editions of the tournament. Although his 2012 win is fondly remembered for the miracle play-off escape from deep in the trees at the 10th, it should be remembered Watson drove the ball superbly in that final HK GOLFER・MAY 2014

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Nowhere else than Augusta National do the corridors of trees framing each hole, coupled with the undulation and shape of the fairways, suit Watson more from the tee.

AFP

round and he repeated the dose in 2014, providing opportunities to hit shorter irons to greens that were noticeably more firmer – and as a result, more fearsome – than in recent years. Practice rounds on Monday were cancelled due to inclement weather yet the greens still had an ominous brown tinge to them as early as Wednesday. The absence of the traditional birdie and eagle barrage we so enjoy on the back nine on Sunday is a testament as to how hard and fast they had become. The cacophonous cheers and a seismic atmosphere reverberating through the pines was absent for the first time in years as players battled more to survive than to prosper. Watson took a two-stroke lead into the back nine and was able to advance his winning margin, despite only shooting level par on the inward nine. Historically, shooting level down the stretch at Augusta is a sure-fire way of losing ground on the field.

In these conditions, Watson led the field for the week in driving distance, was 13th in greens in regulation and 12th in putts per green in regulation. The only time the driver threatened to derail him during the final round was when he cut off more of the par-five 13th hole than he was anticipating. He was a relieved man when the cheers of the crowd indicated his ball has found fairway over 360 yards away, leaving a mere gap wedge to the green. How do you compete with that? “His drive on 13, I’ll never forget,” Spieth said in the aftermath. “I thought it was out of bounds 70 yards left, and it was perfect. He knew that, too. “It [losing] stings right now,” he continued. “The only thing I’m thinking about is when I’m getting back next year. I’ll have more chances, but it’s a stinger. I had it in my hands and could have gone forward with it. “Whether my face showed it on the back nine, I was really having a good time,” he added. “I’m not as good at holding my emotions.” Outside of Watson, the round of the day belonged to Dutchman Joost Luiten (67) with

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Stewart Cink (68) also posting a low number among the early starters. Fif t y-si x-yea r old , t wo -t i me Masters champion Bernhard Langer and Rory McIlroy shot 69s to tie for eighth at level par, while reigning Hong Kong Open title holder Miguel Angel Jiménez was around in 70 to claim fourth on his own, a week ahead of his Champions Tour debut. Langer, Jiménez and Fred Couples may have flown the veteran’s flag with pride during the week week but the most unassuming performance must surely go to Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who was trying to “Do an Adam” by becoming the first player from his country to win the first major of the year. Blixt was making his Masters debut and just his third start in a major but has already shown his class by finishing tied fourth at last year’s US PGA Championship. His four subpar rounds, only the second debutant in history to achieve the feat behind 1979 champion Fuzzy Zoeller, allowed him to tie Spieth for second at five-under as he grimly kept in touch on the final day. “Anytime you shoot under-par at Augusta HKGOLFER.COM

National on a Sunday, you should be pretty happy,” said Blixt, “Bubba Watson played better. I got beat and he deserves to win.” No argument there. Watson admitted he “kind of lucked into” the first win but this one he earned, one he got to savour with wife Angie and son Caleb on hand this time behind the final green. Between his 2012 win and the return to the winner’s circle in Los Angeles earlier this year, Watson never really fell too far, never lower than 30th in the world rankings, but his appearance on leader boards were few and far between. Missing the Presidents Cup team last year definitely hurt too after being a staple of the past few American sides. Now he’s back in a green jacket, has risen back to number four in the world, is a certainty for the Ryder Cup and has another run at cashing in on his talent as many thought would be his destiny two years ago. “A guy named Bubba from a small town; born in Pensacola, raised in Bagdad [Florida], now has two green jackets,” Watson said. “Why me? “I play golf because I love it. I love the game. The game has brought me everything that I’ve ever owned in my life.”

Rookie Jonas Blixt (top) put in an impressive performance on debut, firing four under-par rounds to finish tied second with Spieth; 12 months after Watson eased Adam Scott into the Green Jacket, the Australian returned the compliment HK GOLFER・MAY 2014

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AUGUSTA MEMBER MAKES HIS MARK

Prior to the Masters, Jeff Knox was not a golfer that even die-hard fans would be familiar with. But that all changed during the third round, when he went out in the company of former Hong Kong Open champion Rory McIlroy. Knox, an Augusta National member, served as a non-competing marker with

McIlroy because an odd number of players made the cut. And he showed the Northern Irishman a thing or two about one of golf’s famed courses, shooting a two-under 70 that actually bested McIlroy’s score by one stroke. “He obviously knows this place so well and gets it around,” McIlroy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here. He was really impressive. I was thinking of maybe getting him to read a few of my putts out there.” McIlroy birdied three of the final four holes in his third round for a 71. Knox bogeyed the 18th for the 70. “I thought he was going to be nice and threeputt the last and we would have a half, but he beat me by one,” McIlroy said. Knox’s success at Augusta National is no surprise. He holds the member course record there with a 61. But Saturday’s round came from the championship tees and the course set up for a major. Markers are required in golf when the field has an odd number after the cut. The host course determines whether the marker will play with the single professional or just keep his score.

GOSS EARNS LOW AMATEUR HONOURS

AFP

Oliver Goss became the first Australian to win the Silver Cup as low amateur at the Masters. The 20-year-old from Freemantle, Western Australia was assured of the position on Friday afternoon as the only amateur to make the cut but officially finished his tournament with a three-over 75 to be 10-over for the week, finishing 49th. Some of the game’s greatest names in golf, including Jack Nicklaus and Tiger

Woods, have claimed low amateur at Augusta National. China’s Guan Tianlang received the Silver Cup in 2013 after finishing at 12-over in 58th spot. “I can’t believe it, to be honest with you,” Goss said. “To be the first Australian is really quite unbelievable. What an amazing week, this is such a life-changing event and I will remember it for rest of my life.” Goss, who plays college golf at the University of Tennessee, seemingly has a long professional career ahead of him, such is his power and precision. But before any thoughts of turning pro, Goss will attempt to win the low amateur title at the US Open at Pinehurst. He admitted stepping up to the big stage was an eye-opener. “I’m absolutely exhausted. You’ve got to play your best golf every single day, it just amazes me and I can definitely tell I’m going to get back home and hit the cardio a little harder,” he said. “I really respect these guys for what they do. The second round I played really well and the other days I just played just a little average. “But I managed to play fairly average the whole week and still make the cut so it makes me realise that I can get there, but I still have a lot to learn, though.”

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THIRD TIME LUCKY FOR THONGCHAI Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee capped a memorable week when he signed off with a one-over-par 73 to finish in a share of 37th place at the year’s opening major.  The 13-time Asian Tour winner, who led Team Asia to a stunning fightback draw against Europe at the EurAsia Cup in March, made the cut at Augusta National for the first time in three appearances and completed a week to remember with a four-day total of seven-over-par 295.   Compatriots Sukree Onsham, Thaworn Wiratchant and Prayad Marksaeng are the other Thais who have played at the Masters, but it is Thongchai who now holds the distinction of being the first Thai to feature in all four rounds at the Masters Tournament after carding rounds of 73, 74, 75 and 73.  Asian Tour honorary member Vijay Singh of Fiji also took a share of 37th place alongside Thongchai after closing with a 75 while Korean ace KJ Choi signed for a final 71 to take a share of 34th place on 294.

FINAL STANDINGS

NOT JUST THE JACKET

1

Bubba Watson

USA

69 68 74 69

280

US$1,620,000

2=

Jonas Blixt

SWE

70 71 71 71

283

US$792,000

Jordan Spieth

USA

71 70 70 72

283

US$792,000

4

Miguel Angel Jimenez

ESP

71 76 66 71

284

US$432,000

5=

Rickie Fowler

USA

71 75 67 73

286

US$342,000

Matt Kuchar

USA

73 71 68 74

286

US$342,000

7

Lee Westwood

ENG

73 71 70 73

287

US$301,500

8=

Bernhard Langer

GER

72 74 73 69

288

US$234,000

Jimmy Walker

USA

70 72 76 70

288

US$234,000

Rory McIlroy

NIR

71 77 71 69

288

US$234,000

John Senden

AUS

72 68 75 73

288

US$234,000

Kevin Stadler

USA

70 73 72 73

288

US$234,000

Thomas Bjorn

DEN

73 68 73 74

288

US$234,000

14= Stewart Cink

USA

73 72 76 68

289

US$148,500

Jamie Donaldson

WAL

73 70 76 70

289

US$148,500

Henrik Stenson

SWE

73 72 74 70

289

US$148,500

Adam Scott

AUS

69 72 76 72

289

US$148,500

Justin Rose

ENG

76 70 69 74

289

US$148,500

Jim Furyk

USA

74 68 72 75

289

US$148,500

20= Bill Haas

USA

68 78 74 70

290

US$101,160

Chris Kirk

USA

75 72 71 72

290

US$101,160

Jason Day

AUS

75 73 70 72

290

US$101,160

Ian Poulter

ENG

76 70 70 74

290

US$101,160

Fred Couples

USA

71 71 73 75

290

US$101,160

25

Louis Oosthuizen

RSA

69 75 75 72

291

US$79,200

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Bubba took home a lot more than just his second Green Jacket following his victory. In addition to a cheque for US$1,620,000 (HK$12,560,000), Watson received a sterling silver replica of the Masters winning trophy (itself a depiction of the club’s famed colonial-era clubhouse), a winner’s medal, a crystal vase for having the lowest round on Friday and a pair of crystal highball glasses for his eagle on the second hole.

Clockwise from top: Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee made the cut on his third appearance at Augusta; Oliver Goss receives the Silver Cup from Augusta Chairman Billy Payne for finishing as low amateur; Rory McIlroy talks to his third-round marker, Augusta member Jeff Knox, who pipped him by a shot

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