AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — There’s a reason no rookie has won the Masters in the 35 years since Fuzzy Zoeller pulled it off.
And that’s a big reason Bubba Watson is now the proud owner of two green jackets.
His back nine was not nearly as spectacular as when he won two years ago. There was no playoff shot that will live in Masters lore, like the one he carved around the trees to beat a stunned Louis Oosthuizen.
Just a methodical march to the Butler Cabin, as Jordan Spieth made some rookie mistakes that Watson pounced on like someone who had done this before.
“Walking up 18 was a little easier this time,” Watson said. “The first one for me was almost like I lucked into it.”
Watson didn’t need luck on this warm Sunday, when the possibilities seemed endless as players walked past the big tree on the clubhouse lawn to the first tee.
Tiger Woods was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Phil Mickelson. But 15 players were within five shots, and it looked like the kind of day when several might make a run at the lead Spieth and Watson held overnight.
None of them did. For a moment, it looked like the 20-year-old Spieth was going to stake his claim as golf’s next superstar. He made four birdies – one on a holed bunker shot on No. 4 – in his first seven holes.
The last gave him a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play, and it seemed like Spieth was on his way to becoming the youngest Masters champion ever.
Then he flubbed a pitch shot on the relatively easy par-5 eighth, missed a short par putt, and the Masters started slipping away. He missed another short par putt on the ninth, and by the time the final twosome made the turn, it was Watson holding a two-shot lead.
In about 20 minutes, the tournament had changed. The rookie was now chasing a champion who knew how to win on Sunday at Augusta National.
And the way Watson was pounding his driver – including a tee shot on No. 13 that was truly like no other – it wasn’t much of a fight.
“I had it in my hands and I could have gone forward with it and just didn’t quite make the putts,” Spieth said. “And that’s what it came down to.”
Spieth thought he had prepared for whatever might come on a golf course where some wild and crazy things can happen. He talked to Jack Nicklaus about how to play Augusta National, listened to Ben Crenshaw. His caddie even spent time picking the brain of Carl Jackson, who has caddied in the Masters for 53 years.
But there’s only so much you can prepare for. Finding a way to chase the big-hitting Watson down the back nine wasn’t one of them.
“Eight and nine were really the turning point where momentum really went my way,” Watson said. “The group in front of us and other groups, you could just tell, nobody really caught fire.”
It’s not that Spieth wasn’t desperately trying to find a spark. He slammed an iron into the ground in frustration after blocking a shot right on No. 10, dropped a club on 14 after pulling his second shot, and talked loudly to himself after his tee shot on No. 16.
In between, he made a rookie mistake by going for the pin on the par-3 12th, and could only watch in dismay as his ball trickled back into Rae’s Creek.
“I can see why even when you’re playing your A game why it’s difficult for a first-time winner to pop up here, because it’s just so hard with the subtleties of the greens,” Spieth said. “It may have made a difference by about three shots during the week.”
Those three shots ended up being the difference, with Spieth finishing with his worst round of the tournament, an even par 72, to Watson’s 69.
Experience at Augusta National means more than anywhere else, and Spieth learned that lesson Sunday.
“Even if I didn’t show it there in the back nine, I took it all in,” Spieth said. “Although it’s a little hard right now, I’ll be back.”
Watson said Spieth shouldn’t worry. He’s made the same mistakes.
“It’s just one of those things, he’s a young kid. I mean, everybody presses,” said Watson. “There’s a lot of tournaments that I’ve hit some bad shots pressing trying to win.”