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AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a day when Jordan Spieth was trying to establish his own piece of history, it was Bubba Watson who strolled through the shadows at the Augusta National Golf Club and powered his way into his own slice of Masters lore.
Not only did he withstand the early advances of the 20-year-old Spieth with an awesome display of driving, Watson emerged from what turned into a two-man showdown to win his second green jacket in three years and put him in lofty company with such other great Masters champions as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Seve Ballesteros.
“A small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets,” Watson said. “It’s pretty wild. It’s pretty cool.”
When it was all over Sunday, when the history being etched for the 78th Masters belonged to the man with the pink driver and the wacky, creative shots, Watson broke down in a pile of tears, just as he did in 2012 when he outlasted Louis Oosthuizen in a two-hole playoff.
Watson shot a final-round 69 to finish at 8-under 280, good for a three-shot victory on Spieth and Jonas Blixt of Sweden. After winning the 2012 Masters in a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen, Watson became the 17th player to win multiple green jackets and the ninth to win two.
He is only the fourth player to win two green jackets in six or fewer Masters appearances, joining Horton Smith (3), Palmer (6), and Jimmy Demaret (6). It took two of the greatest Masters champions ever — Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus — seven years to win their second green jacket.
“I’m not trying to play golf for a living,” Watson said. “I’m not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or I’m one of the greats of the game. I play golf because I love it, I love the game.”
When Watson was asked two years ago if he ever dreamed about winning the Masters, he said, “I never got that far in my dreams.”
This year, he said his goal was to get the green jacket back after a disappointing season in 2013, and he did.
“This one is a lot different than the first one,” Watson said. “For me, I kind of lucked into it. This one took a lot of hard work and dedication. After giving it away last year, I kind of wanted it back.”
He got it back in impressive fashion.
Watson hammered Augusta National for four days with his pink driver, sneering at its length and pounding the 7,435-yard beauty with a lethal combination of brute power and precision.
Not only did he lead the field in driving distance (305.6 yards) over four days, Watson ranked eighth in fairways hit (40 of 56) and fourth in greens in regulation (50 of 72). On the 510-yard 13th, Watson hit his drive so far around the corner he had only 144 yards remaining to the hole. He hit sand wedge to the green.
“His drive on 13 I’ll never forget,” Spieth said. “I thought it was out of bounds 70 yards left, and it was perfect. I think he knew that too.”
Spieth was trying to become the youngest champion in Masters history when he began the day tied with Watson and playing in the final twosome. But, instead of supplanting Woods, who was 21 when he won the first of his four green jackets in 1997, he shot 72 and finished tied with Blixt, another Masters rookie, at 5-under 283.
“It’s hard right now, but I’ll be back,” Spieth said. “And I can’t wait to be back.”
After a quick start in which he birdied four of the first seven holes, including a holed bunker shot at No. 4, Spieth suddenly started to misfire and finished the front nine with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9.
When Watson birdied three of the final four holes on the front, the four-shot swing allowed him to leap past Spieth and take a two-shot lead into the back nine.
It was a disastrous turnaround for Spieth, who never really recovered.
“Two two-stroke swings over two holes is very hard to come back from on this course,” Spieth said.
“Eight and nine were really the turning point where the momentum went my way,” Watson said. “Nobody else really caught fire in the groups ahead. There weren’t too many birdies after that.”
Indeed, nobody seemed interested in challenging the final twosome, leaving the Masters spotlight on Watson and Spieth as though it were an 18-hole match-play event.
Blixt, a two-time PGA Tour winner, made only two birdies in a round of 71, including just one on the back nine that is known for producing great moments.
Of the seven players who finished under par, four made only one birdie each, and one — Spieth — didn’t make any. One of the lone exceptions was Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, who shot 33 on the back for a 71 to finish fourth at 284. Jimenez, 50, was bidding to become the oldest champion in Masters history.
The end for Spieth came at the shortest hole on the course — the 155-yard 12th — where so many other Masters hopefuls have come to die. When his tee shot hit the front of the green and spun back into Rae’s Creek, the resulting bogey dropped Spieth two shots from the lead.
The deficit became three when Watson, with 144 yards remaining after a monster 365-yard tee shot at No. 13, two-putted from 30 feet for birdie. With five holes remaining, Watson was in control with a three-shot cushion.
He finished with five consecutive pars to enjoy his tear-filled charge to another green jacket.
“That was some incredible golf he played down the stretch,” Spieth said. “When he’s driving very well on this course, he’s very tough to beat.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.