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Renewed Bubba Watson Escapes Pressures, Looks Dominant After 2014 Masters

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Renewed Bubba Watson Escapes Pressures, Looks Dominant After 2014 Masters
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — He's won that second major, and do not forget the adage: Anyone can win one, but it takes a great golfer to win two or more.

What Bubba Watson won't forget is how he reacted to the first.

Masters champion again. But this time with a road map, one that can be followed by a golfer who chooses to belittle himself as someone who is not very smart.

He can label himself "a guy named Bubba from a small town" in Florida, yet he's found out how to read people's minds the way he does greens, found out the hard way what is expected of a sporting champion no matter where he resides.

What we expect of Bubba is that he'll be among America's best, maybe not another Tiger or Phil, but an elite player. He hits it a mile, and that makes him a hit with the gallery. On the 13th hole Sunday, winding up, Watson drove the ball around the dogleg, 330 yards.

And there will be no shortage of chances this year for Watson to affirm his status as one of the world's top players. The U.S. Open at Pinehurst is up next, followed by the British Open at Royal Liverpool, followed by the PGA at Valhalla. Tom Watson, the other Watson, if you will, is captain of the U.S. team for the Ryder Cup matches against Europe this fall in Scotland. Tom tweeted after Bubba's victory:

What he saw Sunday, what we saw, was a golfer in full flight, relaxed and brilliant. And waiting for whatever comes.

The last time, two years ago, when he pulled off that miracle shot from the trees in the playoff, Watson and his wife were in the process of adopting an infant son. Try to handle that combination: New fame and new kid. Bubba could not.

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Now, after taking the second Masters, after dominating the second Masters, shooting a final-round score of three-under-par 69 and a four-day total of eight-under 280, Watson is prepared for what lies ahead.

"Born in Pensacola, raised in Bagdad," he said of his roots and response to the victory in 2012, "it's crazy to think you have won. So it took me a while to...at the same time adopting my son a week before, threw a wrench in there as well.

"Learning to be a dad and then learning to have a green jacket with you is two big things to adjust to."

So Watson's life unspooled a bit. He wore that jacket everywhere, as a new winner is allowed to do with the traditional reward for a Masters champ.

He wore his emotions everywhere as well. Bubba was testy and defensive in interviews. He also was winless in competition through the 2013 season. This year, he's won the Northern Trust Open, shooting 64-64 the last two rounds without a bogey, and now the Masters.

"It just took me a little time," said Watson. He is 35, went to the University of Georgia and is a self-taught golfer.

"You know, again, like I said when I won in L.A. (in February), I might never win again, but I'm going to give it my best effort. I just kept...hard work, even though it doesn't look like I practice that much. 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."

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A dad, a husband and a winner. Angie Watson, his wife, the one-time WNBA player, and their son, Caleb, now two, were greenside when Bubba arrived at 18 in the fading sunlight. There were hugs and kisses, and again as in 2012, for Bubba, tears.

Then he headed to the scorer's room in the clubhouse and high-fived virtually everyone in the crowd.

"It took me a year to get adjusted," Bubba explained about his problems, both on the course and in the pressrooms, where his discomfort was made clear through his lack of cooperation.

Someone once willing to communicate, to tell stories, to offer smiles, became someone all too eager to flee.

"I'm not really that good. I've got to keep practicing. Finally I got adjusted to it, and here we are, another green jacket after two years."

Watson won this tournament on the eighth and ninth holes Sunday. The wunderkind, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, paired with Bubba, was two shots in the lead after seven. Then Watson drew even with a birdie on eight and picked up two shots when he birdied nine and Spieth bogeyed.

"They were the turning points," Watson said. "The momentum kind of went my way. The group in front of us and the other groups, nobody really caught fire."

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The margin over Spieth and Jonas Blixt was three shots. Watson was satisfied. Watson was contrite.

"The team around me, we always thought I've had the talent," he explained. "You know I've always done it my way. We've always felt like I could play golf at a high level. But to actually do it is the hard part. After getting the green jacket the first time, 2012, winning it, you know, it's overwhelming."

They always say we're unprepared for being parents, which Watson will confirm. He similarly was unprepared for being a Masters champion. That won't happen again, for a number of reasons.

"The first time, we treated it a lot different because of the family," said Watson. "My son, being adopted, didn't have a male figure in his life for the first month. We got him at a month old. So getting used to smell, touch, feel, sound, everything, I had to be there for my son.

"And so golf was the farthest thing from my mind. I took off some tournaments. So this one is a bit different. My schedule's probably not going to change. Everything's a go."

Spoken like a great golfer—and great father.

 

Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, has covered 150 major golf championships. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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