To the casual golf viewer, the 2014 Masters was largely devoid of star quality. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were both gone from the weekend for the first time in 20 years, and Rory McIlroy was off the radar after shooting a 77 on Friday.
However, Bubba Watson's victory should definitively silence any notion that he is not an elite name. Even while carrying the 36-hole lead, it seemed as though more prominent names like Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth were poised to steal the green jacket from Watson.
For a time, that prophecy did not seem so far-fetched. Though Spieth looked poised to run away after jumping up to eight under par early on Sunday, Watson's answer and steadiness on the back nine made him a deserving champion.
Having won his second Masters in three years, the idea of Watson as a one-hit wonder is gone. As he told the Los Angeles Times, Watson was much more under control this year than in 2012:
"I don’t remember the last few holes, I just remember hanging on and thinking 'make pars, make pars,'" Watson said before he was presented with the ceremonial green jacket by last year's champion, Adam Scott.
"The first one for me, it’s almost like I lucked into it. After giving it away last year, I wanted it back. I told Adam we could just swap it back and forth every year. This one was a lot of hard work and dedication."
Since Tiger's 2008 U.S. Open win, golf has seen parity rule its major champions. Though Mickelson and McIlroy have threatened to fill the power vacuum at various times, no one has stepped up to take advantage of Woods' prolonged drought. With the victory, Watson became just the third golfer to have won multiple majors since 2008:
Watson also becomes the 3rd player in the last 5 years to win multiple majors.(along with Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 13, 2014
Of course, at 35 years old, Watson's time as an elite golfer is now. How long he remains near that perch remains to be seen, but his high stock is clearly a present-day commodity.
Conversely, his playing partner and the runner-up, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, represents one of the potential stars of the future. Spieth had threatened in a couple events earlier this year, including Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the WGC-Match Play Championship. But with the runner-up finish, both he and Watson demonstrated that they have arrived as two of the top stars in golf:
Bubba Watson projected to move to 4th in World Ranking. Spieth to 10th.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) April 13, 2014
The age difference means that Spieth has significantly more time and room for growth, and though he failed to become the first golfer to win on his Masters debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, he still made some meaningful history by finishing second:
Spieth: youngest player to finish 2nd or better at Masters, youngest to finish 2nd at ANY major since Sergio Garcia, 1999 PGA Championship— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 14, 2014
Of course, Spieth's ceiling portends multiple major championships. Asking him to become the signature star of golf's post-Tiger era is a dicey proposition, and one that depends on whether Woods recaptures his form, as well as if Rory McIlroy can rebound from a recent rough stretch.
Regardless, the sport needs a young golfer with superstar potential. If Watson represents the breakout star of the present, then the runner-up holds plenty of promise for the future.