Golf | Masters

Back-nine birdie binge puts Bubba Watson in lead at 2014 Masters


Bubba Watson made five consecutive birdies on the back nine to take a three-shot lead at 7-under.

Bubba Watson reacts after making a birdie putt on the 14th green during the second round of the 78th Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. on April 11, 2014
Bubba Watson reacts after making a birdie putt on the 14th green during the second round of the 78th Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. on April 11, 2014


Name R2 To Par
1. Bubba Watson68-7
2. John Senden68-4
T3. Thomas Bjorn68-3
T3. Jonas Blixt71-3
T3. Adam Scott72-3
Three tied at -2

• Inside: Mickelson makes big numbers, misses cut, 2D

• Scores/Tee times: 2D

Third round: 3 p.m., CBS

Special to the Miami Herald

When Bubba Watson came back to Augusta National last April a year after his stirring playoff victory to win the 2012 Masters, by his own admission he was overwhelmed by having to fill the role of defending champion. It clearly showed when he stumbled to a 77 on Sunday and tied for 50th place.

Fast forward a year later and Watson has been a far different golfer over his first two rounds this week. A day after shooting a 3-under-par 69, the native of Bagdad in Northern Florida scorched the back nine Friday with a rousing run of five consecutive birdies, marred only by a bumbling bogey at the 18th. That left him atop the leaderboard with a splendid 68 and 7-under 135, three shots clear of his closest pursuer. Once again, he’s definitely in an Augusta National frame of mind.

“The emotions are different because I’m trying to get the green jacket again,” Watson said. “There’s so much you’re doing when you’re the defending champion, and my mind can’t handle it. For me, it was just overwhelming, the champions’ dinner, everybody still congratulating you, so I just never got the focus. But I’m coming back with the take that I want that green jacket again.”

He’s hardly alone, and there are plenty of gifted players close behind to ensure a fabulous weekend, even if Tiger Woods, sidelined after back surgery, and Phil Mickelson, who missed the cut, won’t be among them.

By day’s end, John Senden kept Australia’s hopes alive for a second Masters winner in a row with a 68 for a 36-hole total of 4-under 140 and solo second. His countrymen have won three of the past four PGA Tour events, and Aussie Adam Scott is the defending champion.

Only a shot behind Friday morning, Scott went down under on his 3-over 39 front side, but rallied on the back and managed an even-par 72 and 3-under 141 to stay in contention. He was in a four-way tie for third with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth (70), the 2013 PGA Tour rookie of the year, Danish veteran Thomas Bjorn (68) and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71).

First-round leader Bill Haas was not as fortunate, soaring to a 78 that left him at 2-over 146 and nine shots behind.

And Fred Couples, 54, had his second 71 in a row and was in a three-way tie for seventh at 142. That 2-under group included Jimmy Walker, a 35-year-old Masters rookie with three victories on the PGA Tour this season, and former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.

“Can I win it? Yeah, that’s why I’m here,” Couples said. “If I play well [Saturday], which I haven’t the last couple of years, then I’ll answer that question again. But none of us can stop Bubba. If he goes out and does what he did [Thursday] and [Friday], he’s the guy to beat.”

Watson didn’t start to heat up until his back nine after an even-par front. His birdies in bunches began at No. 12, the signature hole on the course. He smacked a 9-iron to within two feet of the pin and easily made the putt for his first birdie on the back.

At No. 13, the 510-yard par 5, he got a fortuitous break when his tee shot clipped a branch down the right side and kicked into the fairway. His second shot left him a 10-footer for eagle, but he missed and had to settle for a birdie that at least gave him the tournament lead for the first time.

On the 440-yard 14th, he made a remarkable 35-footer that had at least six feet of right-to-left break, one of those putts that starts off in Fort Myers, veers over toward Palm Beach, then heads back toward Tampa. At the 530-yard 15th, his second shot missed the green, landing pin high in the right short rough. He pitched within four feet and made that putt for four in a row.

His most breathtaking shot may have been his 9-iron at the 170-yard 16th. His ball landed 25 feet above the hole, trickled back down the slope and stopped four feet away. He made that putt for five in a row and was clearly threatening the Masters back nine record of 6-under 30.

Turned out, it was an idle threat. He missed a 25-footer for birdie at 17 and hit his second shot at No. 18 into the gallery on the left side of the green. He poked another sterling chip that used the slope of the green above the hole to get within five feet, but missed for only his second bogey.

“I don’t think I’m in the zone yet because I made a bogey on that last hole,” Watson said afterward. “That five-hole stretch was good. It’s one of those where you’re not focused on what you’re doing.

“You don’t know that you’re making all those birdies. You’re focused on one shot at a time. You’re not thinking you just made your second birdie, third birdie, you’re just trying to make the cut.”

That sort of focus seemed to elude Watson ever since that miraculous hooked shot out of the woods in a playoff against Louis Oosthuizen in 2012 helped secure his first major title and literally rocked his world.

“My year, my career, was complete after that win,” he said. “Never been drunk before, but [there was] a hangover from the green jacket. It’s going to take me some time. I do everything my way. I figured it out my way. It just takes me a little longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today.”

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  • PGA European - Italian Open Preview

    Thursday, August 28th through Sunday, August 31st Course Info Site: Circolo Golf Torino, Fiano, Torino, Italy Course Architect: John Morrison (1956), Graham Cooke and Mario Croze -redesign Par: 72 Yardage: 7,208 Hole by Hole Front Nine: 36 3,555 Yds 1 - Par 5 511 Yds 2 - Par 4 414 Yds 3 - Par 4 412 Yds 4 - Par 4 423 Yds 5 - Par 3 178 Yds 6 - Par 4 466 Yds 7 - Par 4 398 Yds 8 - Par 3 195 Yds 9 - Par 5 558 Yds Back Nine: 36 3,653 Yds 10 - Par 4 427 Yds 11 - Par 4 427 Yds 12 - Par 5 531 Yds 13 - Par 3 186 Yds 14 - Par 4 371 Yds 15 - Par 5 593 Yds 16 - Par 3 220 Yds 17 - Par 4 465 Yds 18 - Par 4 433 Yds Tournament Info Year: 71st Television: Golf Channel - Thursday -- 5:30-7:30 a.m. (et), -- 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (et), - Friday -- 6-7:30 a.m. (et), 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. (et), - Saturday -- 7-11 a.m. (et), - Sunday -- 7-11:30 a.m. (et) Champion: Julien Quesne Runner Up: Steve Webster, David Higgins Tournament Record: 262 (Peter Alliss, 1935) 54-Hole Record: 194 (Hennie Otto, 2008) 36-Hole Record: 128 (Ian Poulter, 2002) Course Record: 66 (Romain Wattel and Scott Hend, 2013) Total Purse: $1,975,292 (1,500,000 euros) Shares: 2013 Final Leaderboard Julien Quesne 276 Steve Webster 277 David Higgins 277 Fredrik Andersson Hed 278 Nicolas Colsaerts 278 Felipe Aguilar 278 Emiliano Grillo 278 Six players at 279 Past Winners 2013: Julien Quesne (276). Runner up: Steve Webster, David Higgins 2012: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (264). Runner up: Garth Mulroy 2011: Robert Rock (267). Runner up: Gary Boyd, Thorbjorn Olesen 2010: Fredrik Andersson Hed (272). Runner up: David Horsey 2009: Daniel Vancsik (267). Runner up: Raphael Jacquelin, John Daly, Robert Rock 2008: Hennie Otto (263). Runner up: Oliver Wilson 2007: *#Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (200). Runner up: Markus Brier 2006: Francesco Molinari (265). Runner up: Anders Hansen, Jarmo Sandelin 2005: Steve Webster (270). Runner up: Anders Hansen, Bradley Dredge, Richard Finch 2004: *#Graeme McDowell (197). Runner up: Thomas Levet 2003: Mathias Gronberg (271). Runner up: Jose Manuel Lara, Colin Montgomerie, Ricardo Gonzalez 2002: #Ian Poulter (197). Runner up: Paul Lawrie 2001: Gregory Havret (268). Runner up: Bradley Dredge 2000: Ian Poulter (267). Runner up: Gordon Brand, Jr. 1999: Dean Robertson (271). Runner up: Padraig Harrington 1998: #Patrik Sjoland (195). Runner up: Jose Maria Olazabal, Joakim Haeggman 1997: Bernhard Langer (273). Runner up: Jose Maria Olazabal 1996: Jim Payne (275). Runner up: Patrik Sjoland 1995: Sam Torrance (269). Runner up: Jose Rivero 1994: Eduardo Romero (272). Runner up: Greg Turner 1993: Greg Turner (267). Runner up: Jose Coceres 1992: Sandy Lyle (270). Runner up: Colin Montgomerie 1991: Craig Parry (279). Runner up: Ian Woosnam 1990: Richard Boxall (267). Runner up: Jose Maria Olazabal 1989: Ronan Rafferty (273). Runner up: Sam Torrance 1988: Greg Norman (270). Runner up: Craig Parry 1987: *Sam Torrance (271). Runner up: Jose Rivero 1986: *David Feherty (270). Runner up: Ronan Rafferty 1985: Manuel Pinero (267). Runner up: Sam Torrance 1984: Sandy Lyle (277). Runner up: Bobby Clampett 1983: *Bernhard Langer (271). Runner up: Seve Ballesteros, Ken Brown 1982: Mark James (280). Runner up: Ian Woosnam, Bobby Clampett 1981: *Jose Maria Canizares (280). Runner up: Bobby Clampett 1980: Massimo Mannelli (276). Runner up: John Bland, Ken Brown 1979: Brian Barnes (281). Runner up: Dale Hayes 1978: Dale Hayes (293). Runner up: Tommy Horton, Vin Baker 1977: Angel Gallardo (286). Runner up: Brian Barnes 1976: Baldovino Dassu (280). Runner up: Carl Mason, Manuel Pinero 1975: Billy Casper (286). Runner up: Brian Barnes 1974: Peter Oosterhuis (249). Runner up: Dale Hayes, Johnny Miller 1973: Tony Jacklin (284). Runner up: Valentin Barrios 1972: Norman Wood (271). Runner up: Brian Huggett 1971: Ramon Sota (282). Runner up: Brian Barnes 1970: Not Held. Runner up: 1969: Not Held. Runner up: 1968: Not Held. Runner up: 1967: Not Held. Runner up: 1966: Not Held. Runner up: 1965: Not Held. Runner up: 1964: Not Held. Runner up: 1963: Not Held. Runner up: 1962: Not Held. Runner up: 1961: Not Held. Runner up: 1960: B.Wilkes (285). Runner up: Aldo Casera 1959: Peter Thomson (269). Runner up: A. Angelini 1958: Peter Alliss (282). Runner up: A. Angelini 1957: Harold Henning (273). Runner up: R. Cotton 1956: A.Cerda (284). Runner up: Flora van Donck 1955: Flora van Donck (287) - H. DeLamaze. Runner up: 1954: Ugo Grappasonni (272). Runner up: J. Jacobs 1953: Flora van Donck (267). Runner up: L. Faulkner 1952: E.Brown (273). Runner up: D. Rees 1951: J.Adams (289). Runner up: E. Brown, A. Angelini 1950: Ugo Grappasonni (281). Runner up: A. Angelini 1949: H.Hassanein (263). Runner up: Aldo Casera 1948: Aldo Casera (267). Runner up: P. Manca, Ugo Grappasonni 1947: Flory Van Donck (263). Runner up: Aldo Casera 1946: Not Held. Runner up: 1945: Not Held. Runner up: 1944: Not Held. Runner up: 1943: Not Held. Runner up: 1942: Not Held. Runner up: 1941: Not Held. Runner up: 1940: Not Held. Runner up: 1939: Not Held. Runner up: 1938: Flory van Donck (276). Runner up: P. Travaini 1937: M.Dallegagne (276). Runner up: Auguste Boyer 1936: Henry Cotton (268). Runner up: J. Ezar 1935: Peter Alliss (262). Runner up: Auguste Boyer 1934: N.Nutley (132). Runner up: Gonzales 1933: Not Held. Runner up: 1932: A.Boomer (143). Runner up: Auguste Boyer 1931: Auguste Boyer (141). Runner up: R. Golias 1930: Auguste Boyer (140). Runner up: A. Dallemagne 1929: R.Golias (143). Runner up: Auguste Boyer 1928: Auguste Boyer (145). Runner up: Loth 1927: Peter Alliss (145). Runner up: M. Dallemagne 1926: Auguste Boyer (147). Runner up: A. Ross 1925: Francesco Pasquali (154). Runner up: W.H. Jolly * - Won in Playoff # - Rain Shortened Formerly called BMW Italian Open (2009-12), Methorios Capital Italian Open (2008), Telecom Italia Open (2002-07), Atlanet Italian Open (2001), Fiat & Fila Italian Open (1999), Conte of Florence Italian Open (1996), Tisettanta Italian Open (1994), Lancia-Martini Italian Open (1990-93), Lancia Italian Open (1987-89), Italian Open (1971-86, 95, 98, 2000). Top Contenders Julien Quesne 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: 2010: mc 2011: 2012: mc 2013: Won Steve Webster 2004: 2005: Won 2006: mc 2007: mc 2008: T-23 2009: 2010: T-46 2011: T-33 2012: T-57 2013: T-2 David Higgins 2004: 2005: 2006: mc 2007: mc 2008: 2009: 2010: 2011: 2012: 2013: T-2 Nicolas Colsaerts 2004: mc 2005: T-32 2006: T-12 2007: T-30 2008: 2009: 2010: T-3 2011: 2012: T-5 2013: T-4 F. Andersson Hed 2004: T-28 2005: mc 2006: 2007: T-3 2008: mc 2009: T-54 2010: Won 2011: T-15 2012: T-35 2013: T-4 Hennie Otto 2004: 2005: mc 2006: T-33 2007: 2008: Won 2009: mc 2010: T-7 2011: T-46 2012: T-22 2013: T-8 Francesco Molinari 2004: T-13 2005: T-17 2006: Won 2007: T-3 2008: mc 2009: T-6 2010: 2011: T-8 2012: T-46 2013: T-16 Matteo Manassero 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: T-25 2010: T-29 2011: T-8 2012: T-3 2013: T-42 Gregory Bourdy 2004: 2005: T-60 2006: T-33 2007: T-60 2008: T-30 2009: 2010: T-22 2011: T-11 2012: T-3 2013: T-42 Simon Dyson 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: 2010: wd 2011: 2012: 2013: T-47 Mathias Gronberg 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: T-42 2010: 2011: 2012: mc 2013: T-66 Jose M. Olazabal 2004: mc 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: 2010: 2011: 2012: T-63 2013: 70th R. Cabrera Bello 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: T-56 2008: T-51 2009: 2010: mc 2011: T-67 2012: 9th 2013: mc Robert Rock 2004: T-48 2005: T-37 2006: mc 2007: T-56 2008: T-51 2009: T-2 2010: T-17 2011: Won 2012: T-46 2013: mc Joost Luiten 2004: 2005: 2006: 2007: 2008: 2009: 2010: T-32 2011: 5th 2012: mc 2013: Stephen Gallacher 2004: T-48 2005: T-70 2006: 2007: 2008: mc 2009: mc 2010: mc 2011: 2012: 2013: NOTES: One of the most storied events on the European Tour schedule, the Italian Open takes center stage this week. This tournament dates back to 1925. Some of the European Tour's best are in the United States competing in the PGA Tour Playoffs. However, three of the top 50 players in the world are in the field - Stephen Gallacher (34), Italian Francesco Molinari (44) and Joost Luiten (50).

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