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Watson’s style,an antidote to Woods

Watson’s shot from the trees in a dramatic playoff shows that even attacking golf can win a green jacket

Written by New York Times | Augusta |
April 11, 2012 2:13:06 am

Karen Crouse

A Masters that started with Billy Payne,the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club,lamenting the game’s stagnant growth ended with the crowning of a champion who has the potential to shake golf out of its lethargy. Watching Bubba Watson tame Augusta National was like watching a cowboy tame a bucking bronco. The course kept trying to throw him off balance,but no matter what kind of crazy lie he had or what type of trouble he found,he just hitched up his pants,pulled a club and summoned a shot as if out of thin air.

Watson’s imagination starts where the fairway ends,as he demonstrated on the second hole of his playoff against Louis Oosthuizen when he drove into the woods. Using a wedge,he hooked his second shot under trees and through the fairway,and off to Butler Cabin he went after saving par with a two-putt from 15 feet. “I got in these trees and hit a crazy shot and I saw it in my head and somehow I’m here talking to you with a green jacket on,” he said afterward.

Watson instinctively gets that the fairways-to-greens march to excellence,although beautiful to behold,is a bit intimidating to the average fan,who looks upon such perfection as unattainable. “I just play golf,” he said. “I attack. I always attack. I don’t like to go to the center of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot; who doesn’t? That’s why we play the game of golf,to pull off the amazing shot.” Watson’s Masters triumph was a victory for creativity and feel and fun. His mind may be cluttered,but not with swing thoughts. He is the antidote to Tiger Woods,whose obsession with the nuts and bolts of his swing calls to mind an auto mechanic with his head buried under the hood.

While Woods dissected his backswing and downswing during his joyless march to a five-over-par finish,Watson managed to post a 10-under-par score without the benefit of a coaching entourage. Note to Woods: the surest way to avoid tell-all books by former coaches is to be self-taught,as Watson is. “I just play golf,fun-loving Bubba,just try to have fun and goof around,” Watson said,adding,“Hopefully,I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Golf,an adventure sport?

The danger of presenting golf,however unintentionally,as such a maddening,mercurial game is that it may make people cool to its charms. Who wants to go to the time and trouble,not to mention the expense,to practice 12 hours a day when you can just sit at home and play virtual golf? Watson,33,makes golf look like an extreme sport,with adventure lurking around every corner,and that may be the best way to grab the attention of today’s restive youth. Watson with a driver in his hand can create the same buzz as Blake Griffin palming a basketball and rising toward the rim.

In his annual address Wednesday,Payne said: “The problems are easy to identify: Golf is too hard. It takes too long to play. It’s not a team sport. It’s too expensive.” He added,“Golf is too precious,too wonderful to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation.” Four days later,on Easter,came the answer to Payne’s prayers. His name was Bubba,a perfect Southern sobriquet,and he was dressed in white and carrying a hot-pink driver that he is using to raise money for charities.

In the final round,Watson overcame a miracle shot by his playing partner,Oosthuizen,who holed a 4-iron from the second fairway for a double-eagle 2. Watson strung together,like beads on a rosary,four straight birdies on the backside to force the playoff. There to greet Watson after his final putt dropped were Ben Crane,Rickie Fowler and Aaron Baddeley,three fellow pros and friends who stuck around after finishing play,a gesture that Edoardo Molinari did not even make to his brother,Francesco. And Payne says golf isn’t a team sport? “I don’t really want to be famous or anything like that,” Watson said. “I just want to be me and play golf.”

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