Even without the star power of Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, the final round of the 2014 Masters provided plenty of drama with roller-coaster rounds and momentum swings throughout the day. In the end, Bubba Watson's victory on Sunday validated the veteran as one of the world's elite golfers.
Apart from a withdrawal at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Watson came into the tournament hot, having finished with four consecutive top-10 finishes before Augusta. Despite falling out of the lead for much of the final round, three birdies between the sixth and ninth holes and a relatively clean back nine paved the way for Watson's second Masters victory in the past three years.
With the win, Watson joins some elite company. His second Masters win came in just six starts, matching Arnold Palmer for the fewest starts needed for multiple Augusta wins:
The casual golf fan may not see the 35-year-old Watson as an elite name on the tour, but with multiple majors, he has established himself as a force at every major. Apart from the British Open, Watson has notched a top-five finish in every major.
In addition, the win moved Watson into fifth place in the FedEx Cup standings, despite playing just nine events on the season. Watson joins Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed as the only golfers to win multiple times in 2014, and the major victory should vault him into the top five of the world rankings:
While Watson's win was history-making, Jordan Spieth had an opportunity to etch his name in even greater company. The 20-year-old Spieth could have overtaken Woods as the youngest winner of the Masters, and the youngest major champion since Tom Creavy at the 1931 PGA Championship.
However, Spieth's entire final round was a topsy-turvy showing. Between the second and ninth holes, Spieth recorded just a single par. Peaking at eight under par after eight holes, Spieth went on to bogey three of his next five holes. Missing several crucial birdie opportunities down the stretch, Spieth ended up at even par for the round and in a tie for second with Swedish golfer Jonas Blixt.
Early in the round, it appeared Watson, Spieth and Matt Kuchar were threatening to run away from the pack. Subsequently, a four-putt double bogey on the fourth hole essentially ended Kuchar's contention, and he was unable to make the birdies necessary to compensate for the gaffe.
Indeed, the lack of birdies was a theme among the final groups. Players with early tee times like Rory McIlroy, Bernhard Langer and Stewart Cink were able to vault up the leaderboard and card the day's lowest scores. Pars largely ruled the scorecards of the final pairings, allowing Watson to preserve the lead he created going into the back nine.
The Masters may have been missing some star power, but the final round offered an opportunity to highlight both the underrated present and intriguing future of the sport.