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Watson swings it and wings it all the way to Masters victory

by | Senior Golf Columnist

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Bubba Watson has often told the story about how he learned the game, without benefit of a single lesson, in the front yard of a home in the Florida Panhandle, hooking and slicing Wiffle balls.

He can spin a ball like he can spin a yarn, it seems. He left out one part.

"Well, he hit them inside the house, too," said his mother, Molly. "Everywhere."

With the shots this guy can hit, as the world learned Sunday at the Masters, he could probably get up and down from inside the family broom closet.

The growing legend of the golf savant from Baghdad, Fla., took another step toward cult-figure status at Augusta National on Sunday night when the left-handed ball-masher outlasted South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen to win the green jacket after finishing regulation tied at 10 under par.

Welcome to a whole new era of the deconstructed golf pro.

"I think it's great for the game," said his friend and tour peer, Ben Crane, who hung around to watch how it turned out.

Keep your instructional magazines, slow-mo cameras, putting gurus, swing aids, laser range-finders, gadflies, groupies, infomercials and other assorted noise. Watson, 33, plays by the seat of his britches and has now proven that you can bag the biggest trophies in the world by taking the minimalist route.

Watson, who has never had a formal lesson, does not use a swing coach or a mental-game guru, is perhaps the most jaw-dropping shot-maker on the PGA Tour, and this time, as he toured the most famous track in the world, he needed almost all the side sauce he could put on the ball.

2012 Masters
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Hey, no problem. Watson, as long as any player in the game, can hit shots that even Tiger Woods would not attempt. Seriously, it's a fact, and not remotely a jab at Woods, either.

"He's got more speed and he curves the ball more," Crane said.

Everybody learned that in high-def television on Sunday night, in the playoff, with a shot that was vintage Bubba golf. He had a narrow channel through the magnolias, and hooded a wedge, which he laced 15 feet off the ground and to within 10 feet of the flag, situated 165 yards away. With Oosthuizen in trouble, Watson won it with a two-putt par.

"Hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising," Watson grinned. "Pretty easy."

Hey, he's had practice. Crane, watching with Watson's trainer Andrew Fisher -- about the only guy he has in his personal camp outside of wife, Angie -- knew exactly what Fisher meant when he said he was glad the shot had about a brutal degree of difficulty.

"I'm so glad he's got this really bad 'hook' shot," Fischer said.

That's when Watson, who has the shortest attention span in golf, is most engaged. If it's a DEFCON 5 shot, Watson is your man. And based on where he hits it sometimes with his trademark pink driver, that's a good thing.

Watson doesn't so much hit the ball sometimes, as much as he hoists it. His feet come off the ground, he sometimes ends up facing the hole after his follow-through, and sometimes it seems like he never swings it the same way twice.

Take that, swing coaches.

With a legion of players out there trying to replicate the same robotic swing, time after time, this savant just ad-libbed his way to the Butler Cabin. Moreover, at No. 4 in Monday's rankings, he's the top-rated Yank in the world.

Watson, whose father was a military man, was not the typical silver-spoon kid, either. In fact, there isn't a single golf stereotype this guy fits, really. Unless Happy Gilmore counts.

Watson, whose real name is Gerry, same as his late father, loves playing the Bubba role to the hilt, and reeled off self-deprecating one-liner after another with the green jacket around his shoulders. Like when he cracked that he never dreamed he'd win the tournament held 100 miles from where he attended college at the University of Georgia.

"I dreamed about it," he laughed, "but I just never made the putt."

This time, he barely missed a shot, finishing with a 4-under 68 to erase a three-shot overnight deficit. After a bogey on the first hole, he only had one more bogey. But he torched the scoring stretch of the fateful back nine with four birdies in succession starting at the 13th to catch Oosthuizen, who had a double-eagle on No. 2 to take the lead.

Somewhat hard to gauge when he first came on tour, Watson has settled down since he got married, and last month, he and his wife adopted a month-old baby boy named Caleb, who were back at their rented home in Orlando. In some ways, Angie has two kids around the house.

When he gets wound up, Watson half-jokingly refers to himself in the third person, which tends to prompt some rolling eyeballs at times.

Just for kicks, I asked him to describe his smash-and-panache style. Watson smiled broadly.

"Let me make sure this is a good one he said," rocking back in his chair.

Take cover, people, Watson has a driver in his hand and is both swinging it and winging it.

"My caddie has always called it Bubba golf," he said. "We always say it walking down fairways. I just play the game, the game that I love. And truthfully, it's like Seve [Ballesteros] played. He hit shots that were unbelievable. Phil Mickelson hits the shot, he goes for it."

Somehow, he forgot Arnold Palmer, but he was on a roll, and no way we were going to interrupt.

"If you watch Phil Mickelson, he goes for broke and that's why he wins so many times. That's why he's not afraid. So for me, that's what I do, I just play golf, 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."

This time it was mission accomplished, vs. missin' accomplished.

In one of the great descriptions of the fidgety Watson, who can get a little animated under pressure sometimes, David Feherty once called him "jumpy as a box of frogs," which about sums it up. He wasn't squirrelly this time, though, despite the incredibly high stakes.

Well, until afterward. As he sat in the front row of the awards ceremony near the Augusta clubhouse, with tour pals Rickie Fowler, Aaron Baddeley and Crane sticking around to watch their pal take the trophies. As he sat there, he noticed a helicopter on the horizon and recalled that Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner who was seated next to him, had a license to fly that type of aircraft.

So, during perhaps the most momentous moment of his professional life, the forever-excitable boy was barely able to contain himself.

"I wanted to nudge him and go, 'You know what kind of helicopter that is?'" Watson laughed. "That realistically is what I was thinking about."

The world just met the game's biggest whirlybird.


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