AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As they prepared for their final-group pairing early Sunday afternoon, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth were side by side on the driving range, close together on the practice putting green, joking and jabbering away as the clock kept ticking toward their 2:40 p.m. tee time.
They have become good friends, these two. Watson, the 35-year-old, self-proclaimed, self-taught “small-town boy” from Bagdad, Fla., and Spieth, a 20-year-old golfing prodigy from Dallas, who later would go at each other in a typically compelling final round of the 78th Masters at Augusta National.
When it was over, there was Watson sobbing again in his caddie’s arms, carrying his toddler son off the course and then slipping on a green jacket in the Butler Cabin for the second time in three years. With a final-round 69 and 8-under-par 280, Watson had a three-shot cushion when he stepped up to the tee at the 18th hole, and one routine par later he was able to secure a three-shot victory over Spieth (72-283) and another Augusta National first-timer, plucky Johas Blixt (71-283) of Sweden.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Watson, who earned $1.62 million for his second victory of the year. “To win here twice and to be with the great names … a small-town guy named Bubba now has two green jackets. It’s pretty wild. … It’s pretty cool.”
Spieth was all ice-cool and comfortable himself at the start of this warm afternoon of gentle breezes and devilishly speedy greens. He played his first seven holes in 3-under, holing out a bunker shot for birdie at the fourth and actually taking a two-shot lead over Watson going to the eighth tee.
“It was just another round to us, and I felt like that was going to help us both out, and we approached it like that,” Spieth said. “We were walking down the fairway talking about anything. We were messing with each other just like we always do. … It was a good time. Whether my face showed it or not on the back nine, I was really, really enjoying myself and taking it all in.”
And then, for Spieth at least, it was a very bad time, what both men later acknowledged as the turning point, tipping the tournament in Watson’s direction going to the back nine.
When Spieth bogeyed the eighth and ninth holes, his buddy Bubba birdied both. Suddenly, Spieth’s two-shot lead had disappeared, and Watson was ahead by two going into the back side. And Watson never trailed again.
“Lucky for me [Sunday] is that nobody really made putts coming down the stretch,” Watson said. “So I didn’t have to make putts myself.”
Spieth further crippled his own chances when a 9-iron he struck at the 155-yard 12th hole hit just in front of the green but came back down the slope and splashed into Rae’s Creek. Spieth managed to save his bogey with a big-time 12-foot putt, but when Watson, who bogeyed No. 10, walked off the putting surface after a chip from behind the green and a three-foot putt for par, Spieth still trailed by two, and he never got closer.
“On 12, he made a great up-and-down,” Watson said. “But the shot on 12, if he could have that back … I made a 10 there last year. I wish I could have that back.”
At that point, Spieth’s quest to become the youngest Masters champion in history was in serious jeopardy, and when he failed to birdie the two short par-5s at 13 and 15, he knew his time was not quite now.
“I thought I had a good number at 12,” Spieth said. “I had a 9-iron, with 150 to the hole and 143-145 to carry the bunker. When I got over it, I felt [the wind] was just dead. And when it was in the air, I thought it was good, actually. From there on, he just played incredible golf.”
Spieth and Blixt did not.
Blixt birdied the 13th but finished with five consecutive pars and never really threatened the lead. The 29-year-old former Florida State star can look back with pride at his first Masters with four consecutive rounds under par.
And Spieth, only three years removed from high school, did not make a birdie on the back nine, even if he obviously demonstrated during the week that he may be the next great player of his generation, also with four rounds of par or lower.
“I’m very, very pleased, no doubt,” Spieth said. “It stings right now, and the only thing I’m thinking about is when am I getting back next year? Obviously, I’ve worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it’s very early in my career and I’ll have more chances, it’s a stinger. And I had it in my hands, and I could have gone forward with it and just didn’t quite make the putts, and that’s what it came down to.
“But, ultimately, I’m very happy. I’ve accomplished one of my goals this year, which is to get in contention in a major and see how I can do. Hopefully, going forward, I can do that again. There’s still three more this year.”
Watson also made it a point on the 72nd hole to tell his young friend there will be other chances.
“Just like I told him when I shook his hand, gave him a hug,” Watson said. “He’s a great talent, and you’re going to have a lot more opportunities. You’re only 20. But you know, he doesn’t really care what I have to say at that moment.”