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AUGUSTA — Bubba Watson has always felt at home at Augusta National.
Now he will never have to leave.
The University of Georgia grad enshrined himself in Masters lore with a playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen on Sunday to win the first major of his career.
A lifetime’s worth of invitations to Augusta was something Watson dreamed about since his childhood, and as he tapped in a six-inch putt on the second playoff hole, emotions welled up in his eyes.
“I dreamed about it. I just never made the putt,” Watson said.
Those emotions resurfaced in Butler Cabin as he slipped on the green jacket for the first time.
“I never got this far in my dreams,” Watson said.
Four birdies in a row on the back nine helped Watson overcome a historical day from Oosthuizen, who had the fourth double-eagle in Masters history on the second hole to grab the lead away from Peter Hanson and Phil Mickelson.
Oosthuizen didn’t give up that lead until Watson hit a career-defining shot from trees well right of the fairway at No. 10. The second shot on the second playoff hole hooked around the Georgia pines, setting up a two-putt par for the victory.
“I got there. I saw it was a perfect draw; a perfect hook,” Watson said. “We were walking down the fairway going, we've been here before. You're good out of the trees. And (Watson’s caddy) said, ‘If you've got a swing, you've got a shot.’ “
Watson won’t forget the shot, and he surely won’t forget the emotions that it ushered in.
“This is an honor, a special privilege to put the green jacket on,” Watson said. “I watched it as a kid, watched it growing up, at the University of Georgia, we talked about this tournament. Played here once a year at the University of Georgia, but I never dreamed about actually winning.”
Watson and Oosthuizen, who both parred the first playoff hole at No. 18, finished regulation at 10-under, two shots ahead of Lee Westwood, Georgia Tech grad Matt Kuchar, Hanson and Mickelson.
Tiger Woods finished at 5-over and equaled his worst finish at Augusta in his career. The four-time Masters champion, who also shot a 5-over 293 in his first year in the tournament in 1995, was finishing his round as the leaders were teeing off on No. 1.
He was a distant memory as the evening turned magical.
Watson and Oosthuizen were paired together in the final round and started Sunday in sixth and seventh place, respectively. Their final rounds went opposite directions when Watson bogeyed his first hole to fall to 5-under and Oosthuizen hit a double-eagle on No. 2 to climb to 10-under.
“That was my first double‑eagle ever,” Oosthuizen said. “So it was tough; it was tough the next five holes to just get my head around it and just play the course. But I felt like I found my rhythm going down 11, and you know, played well in from there. Bubba had a good stretch of four birdies in a row there. I mean, he played brilliant.”
The albatross gave Oosthuizen the lead, and Watson had a front-row seat for the moment.
“When we were walking up 18 during regulation, I told (Oosthuizen) I just wanted to run over there and give him a high five (after the double-eagle),” Watson said. “It was amazing to see the crowd. The crowd roared forever.”
Mickelson, who was in search of his fourth green jacket, and Hanson fell from the top of the leaderboard early.
Hanson, who took a one-shot lead into Sunday, bogeyed the first hole and never got back on top, while Mickelson couldn’t bounce back from a disastrous triple-bogey on the fourth hole that started with an errant tee shot, which bounced high off the stands to the right of the green and into the woods. It took him two tries to make it out of the sticks, and it took him 11 holes to recover those three lost shots.
“If it goes into the grand stand, no problem,” Mickelson said. “It hit the metal railing and shot in the trees. And not only was it unplayable, but I couldn't take an unplayable. There was no place to go other than back to the tee. So I took the risk of trying to hit it a few times.”
The risk opened the door for another lefty to step into the spotlight.
Watson’s wife Angie wasn’t there to watch her husband make history because the couple recently adopted a son — an accomplishment he seemed prouder of than his Masters victory.
Watson’s journey to adoption started four years ago, and it took a nasty turn two weeks ago at Bay Hill when he received news that an adoption request got turned down. The next morning, he made a call to an organization in California, and that night he received the call he had been waiting on for years.
“She said, ‘We have one for you if y’all are willing to accept,’” Watsons said. “Monday at Bay Hill we got turned down, which was heartbreaking, watching my wife, and then Tuesday, we got the great news …”
Watson trailed off as he fought back more tears.
“(My) plane is waiting. Hopefully I can get there soon, and then I'm going to be home,” Watson said. “She just sends me little pictures here and there of what he's doing. (Saturday) she said my interview was good and she said, ‘Your son really liked it and he was staring at the TV.’ ”
Watson had the whole world staring at him as he crept to the top of the leaderboard in his final round.
After his opening-hole bogey, Watson bounced back with birdies on the second and fifth holes to move to 7-under, which was good enough for second place at the time.
With a bogey on No. 12, Watson dropped to 6-under along with Hanson, Mickelson, Kuchar and Ian Poulter — who were all trailing Oosthuizen by two shots.
Kuchar eagled No. 15 to pull into a tie for the lead, but he bogeyed his next hole to fall out of the picture. While no one else was making ground on the South African leader, Watson go to within a shot of Oosthuizen with a birdie on No. 15 and then pulled even with him with a birdie on No. 16.
Watson’s birdie putt on the 17th green lipped out, leaving him and Oosthuizen tied as they made their way to the final hole, which they both parred after a pair of wayward drives, setting up the tournament’s first playoff since Angel Cabrera beat Chad Campbell and Kenny Perry in 2009.
Both golfers nearly sank birdie putts on the first playoff hole but had to settle for pars to extend the playoff, which ended with a shot that will be talking about at Augusta for ages.
“Where I stood from when the ball came out, it looked like a curveball going to the right,” Oosthuizen said about Watson’s shot from behind the trees on the second playoff hole. “So I knew he had to hit a big hook. But an unbelievable shot … that shot he hit definitely won him the tournament.”
It was a high-risk, high-reward shot — the type of shot that has crafted Watson’s image over the years.
Watson likes to call it “Bubba golf.”
“My caddie has always called it Bubba golf. We always say it walking down fairways. I just play the game, the game that I love,” Watson said. “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.”
An amazing shot to cap off one of the most anticipated Masters in history.
There was talk of Woods adding to his major total. There was a buzz around Augusta as veteran Fred Couples took the lead into the weekend. There was Mickelson’s heroics in the third round.
History never saw Bubba coming.
“That's the best part about history, we don't know what's going to happen,” Watson said. “We don't know the future. We don't know anything. Hopefully I keep crying. Hopefully I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I'm doing.”