A thrilling battle unfolded in the final pairing during Sunday's final round of the 2014 Masters Tournament, and for the second time in three years, Bubba Watson emerged with the green jacket at Augusta National Golf Club.
Watson withstood a hot start by 20-year-old prodigy Jordan Spieth, created a four-shot swing on the final two holes of the front nine and held on down the stretch to win his second Masters. A final-round, three-under 69 got Watson to eight under overall, three shots ahead of Spieth, who carded a level par 72.
The PGA Tour's official Twitter account recorded a classic remark Watson made afterwards, where his candid emotion was for all to see, per Golf Digest's Ashley Mayo:
Mike Greenberg of ESPN credited Watson's resolve that was on display throughout the final 18 holes, as he bounced back from an underwhelming 74 in Round 3:
Spieth and Watson began the day tied for the lead at five under, and it looked as though Spieth was destined to become the youngest Masters winner ever early on.
At the par-five second hole, Spieth drained a birdie putt to move into the lead by himself at six under, then stretched the lead to two with a miraculous hole-out from the bunker short of the par-three fourth green:
But that advantage was short-lived, since Watson was already in close and calmly poured in his birdie putt to stay right on Spieth's heels. Both players birdied the next par three at No. 6, before Spieth rolled in a wonderful birdie at the seventh to go two ahead:
It continued Spieth's roller-coaster front nine, which Jason Sobel of Golf Channel weighed in on:
Major champion Paul Azinger pointed out how Spieth seemed to be losing control of his ball—and that ended up being the case as the final round wore on:
The turning point of Masters Sunday came when Spieth missed the par-five No. 8 green to the right in two. A lackluster wedge approach put him far from the hole, and he three-putted while Watson birdied to even things back up.
Then Spieth's approach to the ninth hit the false front and rolled all the way back off the putting surface, leading to another bogey. Another clutch approach after a massive tee shot saw Watson birdie again to go out in 33 and hold a two-stroke advantage at the turn:
When Watson bogeyed at No. 10, the margin was just one heading into Amen Corner. Spieth had a chance to birdie the 11th hole after a wonderful approach, but missed his putt to the low side on the left.
What happened next portended a sign of things to come, as it just wasn't Spieth's day. Although he managed to save bogey on the 12th, his tee shot found the water and put the momentum squarely in Watson's favor:
Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated figured Spieth was beginning to crack based on his on-course countenance preceding that fateful splash:
ESPN's Justin Ray offered his take on the passion Spieth was exuding at Augusta:
It was to be expected from someone of Spieth's young age, and it was something he discussed prior to the round.
"I'm 20 and this is the Masters," said Spieth, per ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor, "And this is a tournament I've always dreamt about. And as Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody."
Unfortunately, Watson proved to be too tough on the back nine to be caught.
Another humongous drive by Watson on the next hole was answered by Spieth missing the fairway to the right in the pine straw, where he was unable to go for the green in two. Watson made a two-putt birdie and Spieth made par, and from there the tournament was well within hand for the 2012 champion.
There were opportunities for Spieth to make birdies and cut into Watson's lead, but his putter let him down toward the end as the players parred Nos. 14 through 16. It didn't come without a little "Bubba Golf" drama, though, as Watson made the bold move of splitting the gap of trees to the left of the par-five 15th fairway and hit it over the water in two.
Rick Reilly of ESPN criticized Watson's aggressive strategy, given the ideal position he was in to win:
Both final pairing players had great up-and-downs for par at the 17th, as Watson maintained his three-stroke advantage striding towards the last. Watson let out an unusual fist pump when he drained his short downhill putt.
Check out this observation from golf analyst Steve Elling:
CBS Sports' Kyle Porter noted how the back nine was rather anticlimactic, and Shane Bacon of Yahoo! Sports echoed Porter's sentiment that the majority was pulling for Spieth to accomplish the improbable:
Amanda Balionis of PGATour.com reported what the classy, composed Spieth had to say after the end of a landmark day:
Another Masters rookie in Jonas Blixt shared the lead briefly in the beginning stage of the final round, but he was never really a threat to come from behind. Nevertheless, Blixt carded a one-under 71 to share second place with Spieth.
Ray noted how well Blixt has fared in his limited major action:
Matt Kuchar had a chance, starting just one shot behind the lead, yet he never gained any traction after a four-putt double bogey at No. 4 and settled for a two-over 74, good for a joint fifth finish to match Rickie Fowler.
Fowler had a funny quote about Watson's perpetual boyish antics, per Golf World's Dave Shedolski:
After posting the low round of the 2014 Masters with a 66 in Round 3, Miguel Angel Jimenez hung tough in his bid to become the oldest champion at age 50, finishing in solo fourth at four under par.
This was a far different feeling for Watson than his 2012 triumph, when he beat out Louis Oosthuizen in a thrilling playoff that ended on the 10th. Instead, he got to enjoy his march up to the 18th green a little more this time around, cementing himself as a legitimate superstar as a multiple major winner.
As for Spieth, there is nothing for him to be ashamed of. Although a win at Augusta National would have been the biggest step in his young career to date, there is still a chance for him to be golf's next massive superstar, and he should be a big factor at the remaining three major championships of the season.
With the way Watson can overpower a golf course as he did at Augusta, he has to be considered a big favorite at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Open.
For now, he can enjoy the spoils of a victor in Butler Cabin and focus on furthering his status in the game of golf as a likely future World Golf Hall of Famer.
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