“Get in the hole!”
Surely it is the first time in modern golf history that the game’s most annoying shout caused a roar of laughter – but that is exactly what happened on the 17th hole of Augusta National yesterday, as a sudden wind burst through the pines and sent the wide-brim hat of a spectator flying toward the green.
Bubba Watson didn’t even crack a smile.
Instead, he sent his caddie to run the hat down and – to an Augusta round of gentle applause – deliver it back to its owner as quickly as possible.
Bubba had work to do.
The 2012 Masters champion had, remarkably, just birdied five holes in a row – 12 and 13 of “Amen Corner,” 14, 15 and 16 – to catapult to the top of the leaders’ board at eight-under par. The hat out of the way, he hit safely to the 17th green and two-putted for par, then missed the green on 18, took a bogey and finished at seven-under.
Australian John Senden, who shot 68, is three strokes back at four under. Standing at three-under, four shots back of the leader, are Danish pro Thomas Bjorn, Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, defending champion Adam Scott of Australia, and 20-year-old Texas phenomenon Jordan Speith.
Perhaps the most popular player on the course, 54-year-old American Fred Couples, shot a second successive 71 to stand at two-under.
First-round leader Bill Haas soared to a six-over 78 Friday and is two-over for the tournament, Louis Oosthuizen, the South African Watson defeated in that dramatic 2012 playoff, soared to four-under at one point before taking a disastrous eight on the par-five 15th. Oosthuizen now stands even for 36 holes.
The two Canadians – Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., and Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask. – both had fine rounds, shooting even par 72. Weir made the cut at 143 but DeLaet could not make up for his opening-round 80.
“I played a lot better today,” DeLaet said. “I gave myself chances … but I just wasn’t able to make putts pretty well all week.
“I know there were a lot of people cheering for me and I feel I let them down a little bit – but I tried my best.”
“I’m not as close as I’d like,” Weir said, “but I’m there. If I play well [Saturday] I can put myself right in this tournament.”
If Watson can hold his impressive lead, it would mark the sixth time over the past dozen Masters that a left-hander wears the green jacket – something that had never happened in the 66 tournaments that followed the founding of the tournament. Weir was first to win left-handed, in 2003, then American Phil Mickelson won three, and now, if Watson can win on Sunday, it would mark his second.
Some golfers swing left, many swing right – but there is only one Bubba Watson. To call him unique would be to devalue the word.
What other PGA Tour player would use his winnings to buy the General Lee car from the Dukes of Hazzard television show and drive it to a tournament?
What other pro golfer uses a pink driver to pound balls out 350 yards?
What other PGA player would respond to a congratulatory call from U.S. President Barack Obama with “Hey, Buddy”?
What professional golfer would buy Tiger Woods’s mansion?
And what half-round leader of the Masters, where they like to say playing the greens is like trying to putt on the hood of a Buick, says that the secret to his success here is “Just close my eyes and putt.”
The 35-year-old from Bagdad, Fla., is as emotionless on the course as he can be emotional in victory: his sobs two years ago were as moving as his remarkable come-from-behind charge to force, and win, a playoff victory over Oosthuizen. He became emotional again Friday talking about his late father finding work in construction and his mother holding down two jobs so he could afford to golf.
He has never had a lesson. He does not have a swing coach in an era when so many professional golfers have swing, putting, psychological, nutritional and strength coaches.
In a remarkably candid news conference following his round, Watson said that even though he’s never been drunk, he suffered from a “hangover” from winning two years ago, which threw his game into a funk.
“I didn’t know how to handle it the best way,” he said.
“I do everything my way. I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today.”
Watson credits his faith, his wife Angie, who is Canadian, and their adopted son, Caleb, with getting that focus back. Golf, he says, comes “fourth or fifth” on his list of priorities.
The secret to golf, he says, is to “go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing” in the fun of play.
It seems a strange thing to come from a man who shows such little emotion on the course, who tries not to respond to the roars of the crowd, who at day’s end returns to the house he has rented and refuses to turn on the television or read anything until the tournament is over.
What he gets to read on Monday is, at the moment, anyone’s guess.