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Hubba Bubba!

By: Jay Flemma


"I'm gonna have to work on my 350-yard, left-handed slice for next year. Wish me luck," quipped Graeme McDowell, after Bubba Watson claimed his second green jacket in three years with a shot that proved to be the defining moment of the 78th Masters.

It was actually a 366-yard drive, it soared over the trees guarding the dogleg on the iconic 13th hole at Augusta National like the Goodyear blimp, and it left Watson with just a 56-degree wedge into the green on perhaps the most famous par-5 in America. It was a jaw-dropping shot, a thunderous cannonade that left everyone - patrons, media and fellow competitors - absolutely shell-shocked.

You'd have thought Godzilla was razing Tokyo again.

"It's outrageous. It's crazy," said Bubba when he donned his second green jacket. He meant winning the tournament, but the rest of us knew it was that drive he was describing.

"They're going to have to Bubba-proof 13," joked ESPN's Bob Harig, and while we hope he's only joking, you can't blame Harig for the metaphor. Watson not only secured a three-shot lead he would take to the house with the resulting birdie, he made the final five holes of the tournament an afterthought.

"I've had wedge into 13 there a couple times," Watson explained. "I knew it clipped a tree and it was cutting a little too much. But I knew I hit it hard, and when I heard the roar, I knew I could breathe again."

Bubba's closing 69 gave him an 8-under total of 280 for the week, three shots clear of super-rookie Jordan Spieth and rising Swedish star Jonas Blixt. Miguel Angel Jimenez was fourth at 4-under.

Bubba ruined the story of the tournament - maybe even the story of the decade - by holding off the 20-year-old Spieth, who was trying to become the youngest winner in Masters history (and, in doing so, win the green jacket on his first trip to Augusta National).

Indeed, early on, it looked to be Spieth's day on his inaugural trip to the Masters. He electrified everyone with a birdie at the par-3 fourth by holing out from a bunker to take a momentary two-shot lead. And, after a bogey at the fifth, also birdied the tough par-3 sixth and looked unflappable, playing far beyond his age.

But Watson matched both birdies, keeping his deficit to just two shots before powering past Spieth with additional birdies at the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth, while Spieth carded bogeys at both.

As an aside, it's the second time Watson defeated a player who holed out a spectacular shot. Watson broke Louis Oosthuizen's heart in 2012 after Oosty made a double-eagle on the par-5 second hole in the final round.

Nos. 8 and 9 were a seismic momentum shift, and you both could see and feel the sea change. Spieth, so sublimely calm and poised for 61 holes, suddenly looked human. These were his only back-to-back bogeys of the week, and the bogey at eight was the only six he carded all week.

"That was the turning point," Watson confirmed during his post-round interview. In the course of 12 minutes, Spieth's two-shot lead was now a two-shot deficit and, after he committed the quintessential mistake at 12 - coming up short and rinsing his ball in Rae's Creek - and it was Bubba's tournament to win.

And with that 366-yard blast at 13 Bubba all but put a wrap on the Masters.

"Boy it's a good thing the USGA and R&A have done such a great job controlling technology," deadpanned seminal European golf writer John Huggan. "Otherwise he might have driven the green."

Hall of Famer Dan Jenkins was even more laconic. "Bubba sees throats, Bubba steps on throats," Jenkins tweeted and, as usual, he was dead-solid perfect. After keeping his ball dry through the 16th hole, Bubba's last two holes were essentially a victory lap.

Now the self-described "New Age Redneck" joins a pretty select group of players who have won two Masters titles in three years. How's this for an exclusive club - Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Eldrick Tont Woods, Philip Alfred Mickelson and now Gerry Lester Watson.

"Gerry Lester Watson?" asked golf fan Tim Ducey. "That's almost as strange a name as 'Thomas Brent Weekley.' " (That's Boo Weekley, for those of you scoring at home.)

All day, Bubba did what Bubba does best - he catapulted gargantuan drives into the fairways, got up and down from the Waffle House on Washington Street, and made medium-length putts for clutch birdies and pars. Like a chess player who caught an opponent in a blunder, he took the lead, tightened the noose and closed the deal.

Bubba finished T-5 in the most important statistic at the Masters - greens in regulation, becoming the ninth winner of the last 12 to be top-five in that stat. He was also first in driving distance (averaging 306 yards), T-13 in driving accuracy, and T-20 in putting, a strong week all around.

He's an unlikely golf star. Charming, down-home, humble and grateful, Watson is as great an ambassador for golf as a fan could ask for. It's shocking that a few Internet trolls and atheists actually vilify him for his class and humility. But what can you do? Just keep doing what you do, that's what. Haters are gonna hate, so players gotta play. Winning may not cure everything, but it will make the critics look stupid.

Meanwhile, Spieth won the fans over with his gutsy, plucky week. Sure, he fizzled on the back nine, especially on the par-5s (3-over on the last three par-5s won't get it done on championship Sunday). But nobody made a Sunday charge this year, so you can't point the finger at just the youngster from Dallas. He played a great tournament for 61 holes, but no one could keep pace with Bubba. It was as though that drive at 13 took the life out of the rest of the field.

"We knew right then it was Bubba's day," said McDowell, and the Ulsterman was right.

So, as he spun the club in his hands a la Tiger Woods on that final approach into 18, Bubba knew he could finally relax and enjoy that well-earned walk up the 72nd hole. Who cares that he doesn't fist pump? Who cares that Madison Avenue consistently underestimates him? Golf fans know one inalienable truth - people love a warm dweeb far more than a cool jerk. They don't let you down when it matters most - as an ambassador of the game.

"I told Adam Scott we should just alternate putting the green jacket on each other," Watson said in his victory speech.

And you know what? As far as great golf and great people go, that sounds pretty darn good.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma 's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay has played over 420 nationally ranked public golf courses in 40 different states, and covered seven U.S. Opens and six PGA Championships, along with one trip to the Masters. A four-time award-winning sportswriter, Jay was called the best sports poet alive by both Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports writers and broadcasters. Jay has played about 3 million yards of golf - or close to 2,000 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf, PGA.com, Golf Magazine and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.