April 11, 2013

The Masters: Not losing it can mean a win

The competition for that storied green jacket could give any golfer fits.

By MARK WHICKER The Orange County Register

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Some years you snatch the green jacket out of the closet. Some years it falls off someone else's shoulders and gathers around you in your sleep.

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Bubba Watson is congratulated by spectators after a hole-in-one on the 16th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Wednesday in Augusta, Ga.

Photos by The Associated Press

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Molly Marie Watson proudly hugs her son, Bubba Watson, after he won the 2012 Masters, partially due to a perfect wedge shot from pine straw on the 10th hole to save par.

Mostly it's a little bit of both.

Louis Oosthuizen had the best seat at Augusta National last year when Bubba Watson classically defined the term "pine time."

Watson was jailed in the pine straw, with no clear shot to the 10th hole, two holes into the playoff. But because he was left-handed, in every sense, and because he wasn't spooked by the consequences, he envisioned and then performed a rainbow hook with a 164-yard pitching wedge, around trees and a TV tower.

That will be the everlasting image of the 2012 Masters, so vivid that Padraig Harrington was wondering why the club hasn't already adorned the spot with a plaque.

"Who wouldn't want a plaque that says Bubba in the middle of pine straw?" Watson asked. "But I would never ask for a plaque. If I do it again this year then, yes, I'll ask for a plaque."

But Watson did not turn that piece of bottled lightning into a birdie. He two-putted for par.

Oosthuizen's poor chip prevented him from a par, and the playoff ended there.

Only in rare instances do you win one of these things -- or, really, any tournament -- outright.

Usually someone has to open the window, or jam it hard on his own fingers.

In 2011, Adam Scott stood on the 16th tee Sunday with a one-stroke lead. He stabbed his tee shot to within the shadow of the flagstick, birdied that, parred 17 out of the sand and parred 18.

And he lost by two. Charl Schwartzel, behind him, rolled in four consecutive birdie putts, shot 66 and stole the fabric.

"There was not much else for me to do except birdie the last four, like Charl did," Scott said, understating as usual, with a twinkle. "I've seen a lot of Masters where, if you finish like I did, you win or you're somewhere in the playoff. Here, I wasn't even close.

"So it just felt good to contend. I have nothing but good memories of all that."

What's disappeared from most memories, except Rory McIlroy's, is that McIlroy began the day with a four-stroke lead and his hand on the wheel of the whole sport's transformation.

He steered himself into an 80. But even if McIlroy had shot even-par 72 he would have finished two behind Schwartzel. That is a Masters that was won.

Then there was last July, and a British Open that jumped out of Scott's hands and flew into a nearby firth.

Scott was leading by four strokes, four holes to go, at Royal Lytham. He produced four bogeys.

He missed a 3-foot par putt. He left a drive against a fairway bunker. He was foiled by a pot bunker.

Meanwhile, Ernie Els, trailing by six with nine holes to go, put up three unnoticed birdies and then a wildly celebrated 17-foot birdie on 18, and then he watched Scott polish up the claret jug and hand it over.

"The more you're up there, the more you contend, the more you're going to lose," Scott said.

And he speaks, safely, from the precipice.

In December, Scott shot 67 on Sunday and won the Australian Masters by four, over Ian Poulter, who had bogeyed two par-5s. Golf, the equal opportunity embarrasser.

"When I got into position to win again it was gut-check time," Scott said. "You've just got to get on with it.

"You don't want to struggle to close out a golf tournament. I don't want to lose any more, but it's inevitable if you contend a lot. The first one I had my hands on, I let go. But I really just took the positives, that it was great to play so well in a major."

That might sound like convoluted denial. Greg Norman used to say the same thing. It didn't prevent the 78 he shot on Sunday in 1996, the one that made his six-shot lead irrelevant.

But the only option for a golfer is to deal with bleak phenomena and select the most helpful memory.

After all, nine of the past 12 54-hole leaders in majors have failed to win.

Watson himself washed away his hopes in the 2010 PGA playoff, losing to Martin Kaymer.

Watson walked down the 10th fairway the other day and saw two people in the pine straw. He knew what they were after.

"The spot is a little farther down," he told them.

They turned in surprise -- and Watson recognized Billy Casper, the 1970 champ, and his son.

"I didn't know who they were," Watson said. "I couldn't see through the trees."

On Sunday at Augusta, you don't have to look. The crash gives it away.


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