AUGUSTA, GA. - They call it a 72-hole tournament, but it often boils down to one single hole, usually blown, rarely owned.
Louis Oosthuizen had one of the latter Sunday afternoon when he stood on the downslope of Augusta National's No. 2, a bow-shaped 575-yard par five known as Pink Dogwood even when spring blossoms are already spent, and he considered his options. The South African was at that moment in third place, his seven-under-par score trailing both American Phil Mickelson and Sweden's Peter Hanson, both at eight-under.
He was also trailing, seriously, in length one Bubba Watson, the tall left-handed American whose pink driver had burst his tee shot a county line beyond little Louis and seemed in superb position to pitch to the green in search of an eagle, at the very least a birdie.
Oosthuizen – a gap-toothed South African whose tour nickname is Shrek – took out a 4-iron, took a few practice swings, stepped up and swung with as much prayer as might. The ball flew through the air, drifting downhill toward the fat of the green some 220 yards away.
The crowd gathered around No. 2 oooh-ed as the ball plunked in front of the green, clapped as it skipped onto the green's surface, and went silent just for a moment as it began to roll. Then, when they realized the ball was not only rolling but curling right toward the pin tucked in behind a large bunker, they began a murmur that grew to a roar that turned into an explosion of sound as the ball disappeared into the hole and the crowd leapt as a chorus of jack-in-the-boxes to acknowledge the rarest of all golf shots: the double eagle.
“It was my first double eagle,” Oosthuizen said later. “You think this is it.”
Once before, 77 years ago, a three-under-par double eagle had decided a Masters, and that was when Gene Sarazen got down in two on the par-five 15th to force a playoff that he would go on to win.
Oosthuizen's amazing shot would also lead to a playoff, the 10-under score he left the second green with still holding by the 18th but with big-hitting Watson coming alive on the back nine with four late birdies to hit 10-under himself. Just as Sarazen's albatross had caused a playoff in 1935, Oosthuizen's would in 2012.
But this tournament would come down to one other hole, the 74th, and this one would be owned by an intense left-hander who drives the original General Lee Dodge Charger from the old Dukes of Hazzard television series and has never taken a golf lesson in his life, but who somehow threaded a wedge out of the woods onto the green, close enough for an easy par while Oosthuizen bogeyed. Watson's par gave the 33-year-old his first victory in a major golf tournament.
“A crazy shot that I saw in my head,” Watson said of the high looping hook out of the woods that somehow found the green.
“That shot he hit definitely won him the tournament,” Oosthuizen said.
Those two dream golf shots – Oosthuizen's 4-iron and Watson's wedge – would highlight a most remarkable week at Augusta National. While the tournament held riveting drama over the final nine holes and playoff, it had most assuredly not lived up to expectations early on.
The golfing media had set up this event as if there were only two competitors, not more than 90. The two names most mentioned were not the popular Watson, and certainly not the relatively unknown Oosthuizen, but four-time champion Tiger Woods and Northern Ireland's young Rory McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion who, a year ago at the Masters, had collapsed with a closing 80 in the final round as he squandered a four-shot lead.
There was to be no Easter resurrection for the much-troubled Woods. As for 22-year-old McIlroy, a “patron” favourite, he flirted with success briefly in the second round but could not sustain. Ironically, the two media superstars did end the tournament neck-and-neck – tied for 40th, 15 strokes short of the lead.
Woods's predicted return to grace – his personal scandals and divorce behind him, his game supposedly back – was not to be. If Woods is remembered for anything in the 2012 Masters, it will be for angrily kicking his nine-iron after a muffed shot on No. 16 during Friday's round. The 36-year-old golfing superstar showed himself as his critiques have long contended: immature and petulant.
In the end, it was Bubba Watson, the jutting steel jaw he had shown the world all week suddenly quivering as he was asked what this would mean to his wife, Angie, and the new baby son, Caleb, they adopted in Florida only two weeks earlier. “I've never had a dream go so far,” he said, tearing up, “so I can't really say it's a dream come true …”
“Now get back to real life – I haven't changed a diaper yet.”