Louis Oosthuizen may have thrown the biggest haymaker in the fight, but it was the feisty long ball hitter, Bubba Watson, who sustained the roar of the crowd when Oosthuizen made history with his double eagle on the second hole, to throw enough of his own punches that allowed him to prevail on the second playoff hole to capture the 2012 Masters Championship.
There was no easy victory walk this Sunday. It was apparent from the time Oosthuizen’s approach on #2 rolled into the cup that this Master’s would be determined on who could match the early brilliance of Oosthuizen by carding enough birdies to make a back nine run charge. On a front nine that saw the final pairing of Phil Mickelson and Peter Hanson falter, it was Bubba Watson who responded to Oosthuizen’s challenge by birdying 12 through 16 to bring him into a tie with Oosthuizen going into 17. Meanwhile, Oosthuizen, who may have suffered a slight hangover from the miracle shot on 2, gave two of his shots immediately back with bogeys on 3 and 4. Despite the stumble, Oosthuizen proved why he, as a nine year professional, had already captured one Major Championship, by righting the ship on the back nine with birdies on 13 and 15 to stay even with Watson.
Both players momentum came to a sudden halt on 17 as they both scrambled on 17 to make par and then missed their birdie putts on 18 to finish their rounds tied at 10 under. Meanwhile, as Watson and Oosthuizen signed their scorecards, Mickelson, who had battled back into contention on the back nine with birdies on 13 and 15, was unable to get any closer than two shots of the lead as finished at 8 under. If there were any nerves going into the first playoff hole they were difficult spot as both Oosthuizen and Watson hit two solid shots to give themselves very makeable birdie putts. However, despite their ability to make putts all week, Oosthuizen saw his 15 footer burn the edge and Watson, grossly misread his 9 foot birdie putt that saw him, for one of the few times all day, illustrate that the nerves may have started to get the best of him. As Watson briskly walked to the 10th it was not difficult to tell that the two missed opportunities on 18 were firmly in his mind.
As the game of golf can exploit nerves more than any other sport, it was not a surprise to see Bubba’s tee shot on 10 sail off to the right and into the pine straw. Seemingly in the driver seat at that point, Oosthuizen elected to play it safe by taking a 3 wood off the tee. His play failed to pay dividends as the South African also pushed his shot to the right leaving him with a long iron out of the first cut of rough for his approach. Oosthuizen was unable to find the green as his shot landed well short. From the initial look at his ball, it did not look like Watson had much of a shot at placing his approach anywhere near the green. However, just a few hours ago, in approximately the same position, Watson hit a miraculous shot that had accomplished just that feat. With the confidence of his prior execution, It did not take Watson long to seize the moment as he cut his iron around the large pine guarding his path and landed the ball softly on the green to within 15 feet giving him another makeable birdie putt to close out his victory.
Perhaps disheartened by Watson’s second brilliant shot on 10, Oosthuizen was finally out of answers as he was unable to get up and down and tapped in for a bogey five that gave Watson two putts to win it. There would be no knee bending 3 foot putt on this day, as Watson’s first putt crept to within inches of the hole to leave him nothing more than a tap in for the championship. As Watson dug the ball out of the cup for the 74th time the crowd who had been cheering him on all day began to chant “Bubba” in unison. For the first time all week, the stoic façade came crumbling down as Watson broke down into tears as he was embraced by his caddie, Ted Scott.
As the sun set in Augusta after a magnificent four days of golf that possessed a little piece of history each day, from Stenson’s quadruple bogey on 18 to Oosthuizen double eagle on 2, it was the moment on the 74th hole that served as the ultimate symbol that there is no better moment in all of golf than what a Sunday at the Masters provides.
Can’t wait to watch it all over again next year!