|Bubba Watson hits out of the woods on the 10th hole during a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen on his way to win the 76th Masters at Augusta, Sunday. (GETTY IMAGES)
AUGUSTA - We had no Tiger and no Rory, no anguished Othello or young Hamlet still agonizing over the question of whether to be or not to be on this particular occasion, but there was Louis Oosthuizen and his shot that will never be forgotten as long as golf is played.
There was also a good ole boy from the Florida panhandle named Bubba Watson and that made a most compelling cast of two as they went into the dusk for their playoff. Bubba fired an outrageous shot out the trees to land on the green and he won, which seemed a rather arbitrary phrase at the end of a day of such taut and mesmerizing action.
But then even before the South African’s albatross on the second hole, something which threatened to shake the game at least as profoundly as the one performed by Gene Sarazan on the 15th here back in 1935, no one could say that the 76th Masters had fallen short of its potential for a last day of high drama — and fine quality — here Sunday.
Indeed, when Oosthuizen and Watson, who sometimes looks as if he might be more comfortable strumming a banjo but always retains the ability to play brilliant golf shots, went hand to hand along the 18th hole it was the final evidence that we had one of the great tournaments.
Not a classic, you understand, but something utterly compelling. At least half a dozen intriguing sub-plots had made claims for attention yet always at their heart, it seemed, would be a collision of style and competitive nature, a story of flamboyant but deep-seated ambition set against one of those golfing philosophies apparently proofed against the most draining effects of pressure.
Put another way, it was Phil Mickelson, the hero of every red-blooded member of an American country club, against Oosthuizen, the 29-year-old who two years ago laid waste to the pick of the world game to win the Open at St. Andrews.
Both were at or near the pinnacles of their game on Saturday when they tracked the laconic Swede Peter Hanson, who for one day at least had been a man with fire in his veins and his clubs.
Oosthuizen, whose previous three visits here all ended in a failure to beat the cut, admitted that he had brought his most concentrated head to the tournament. “I proved to myself that I could compete with the best players when I won at St. Andrews and coming here this time I was able to prepare properly without any injury issues and I was determined to make a bigger impact.”
That happened quite stunningly when the 253-yard, four iron albatross flew home so beautifully and a great roar rolled through the pines. Mickelson, by way of the bleakest comparison, was approaching disaster. While Oosthuizen saved par with fine nerve on the third and sixth holes, having given one back from the albatross bounty on the fourth, Mickelson dropped three strokes after his tee-shot hit a stand and bounced into the undergrowth off the fourth.
That left him four shots behind Oosthuizen, whose blemish on the 18th the previous night was brought back to mind with some edgy moments after the huge break on the second.
Still, his 69 on the third day continued to represent a superb body of precision work and surely fuelled his best hopes of hanging on for his second major.
Mickelson’s coruscating third round 66 became a series of extraordinary detonations — and none more thrilling than something described as a full-swing flop shot. It came from behind the 15th green and set up a birdie where before there had been a serious possibility of disaster. His father Phil mused, “The thing is if he missed the shot he would never have heard the end of it. He would have been crucified.” Mickelson’s friend and former coach Rick Smith agreed, saying, “He’s the only guy in the world who would have made that shot.”
That may not have been strictly true. Watson, in fourth place at six-under, fought his way into Sunday’s decisive action with a game at times no less extravagant than Mickelson’s. An often strange, puzzling character, Watson’s least uncomplicated moments tend to come when his blood is running high on the course.
In the Saturday gloaming he provoked a vast roar with a brilliant birdie at the 18th. It came from golf of the boldest kind and it was still another reminder that the failures of the aging Tiger and the young Rory had not begun to dampen the American party.
Mickelson’s problems on the fourth may not have enhanced the mood but if anyone was capable of talking himself into recovery, it was surely Mickelson. However, in the end the most menacing voices were those of the deceptively gentle Oosthuizen, a major champion with, maybe, a regained sense of his own possibilities — and Bubba, that good old boy from the back country.
Bubba carried the day with a shot for the golfing ages, and then, as his habit, began to weep copiously. “He’s the kind of guy who cries when his eggs are cooked nicely,” someone said. Maybe so, but then he had just scrambled the hierarchy of a game in which he has previously provoked as many questions as cheer. There was also this strong suggestion that there may be life after Tiger Woods.
— James Lawton writes for The Independent newspaper in the U.K.