Ice storm might have helped Watson in 2014 Masters
Bubba Watson doesn’t do things small. Every time he drapes a green jacket on his shoulders, some kind of jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, tree-defying SMH shot put him there.
“There’s always something,” Watson said. “Last time the hook shot. This year was the drive.”
Type “The Drive” into Google and what pops up are links detailing John Elway’s game-tying, 15-play march to lead the Denver Broncos to an overtime victory in the 1987 AFC Championship game over the Cleveland Browns.
Elway’s “drive” covered 98 yards. Watson’s shaking-my-head drive was considerably longer – almost 300 yards longer.
On the Augusta National’s 510-yard dogleg par-5 13th hole, called Azalea, Watson had 120 yards left to the front edge, 140 yards to the far right pin. Estimates put the drive at 370 yards – almost all of it carry.
“Hit a 56‑degree sand wedge in there,” Watson said.
The final-round drive didn’t technically win Watson the Masters, but the ensuing birdie expanded his lead to three shots, which he maintained with a series of pars the rest of the way.
That drive was the moment when Jordan Spieth knew Watson wasn’t going to be caught. When the ball left Watson’s driver heading toward the trees thinned a bit by a February ice storm, Spieth thought for a moment that the tournament was back in play for him.
“I thought that was way out of bounds,” Spieth said. “From what I heard it hit a tree or two and came out into the fairway. It wasn’t too far off his line, but I know he thought he hit it too far left. So I was thinking hit the green here, make a 4 and he makes 6 and I’m right back tied for the lead.”
Watson thought the same thing for a moment.
“So as soon as I hit it, I was like, ‘Oh, man,’” he said. “I have to wait to see what the crowd’s reaction is, because we can’t see it when it goes over the trees. And when they cheered, obviously I knew it was going to be pretty good.”
When discussing the degree of hold-your-breath luck required to win a Masters, Fred Couples’ ball sticking to the bottom of the bank above Rae’s Creek on the 12th hole in 1992 is the typical starting point. But perhaps Watson’s carom over and through the most picturesque graveyard in golf deserves a little more credit.
Several Augusta National caddies think there’s no way a ball could have gotten through the trees on the line Watson took if not for the ice storm that thinned the canopy considerably all over Augusta. A couple of the towering pines that long framed the 13th hole were missing, including the largest one, which had housed a family of horned owls for years.
Watson could not tell how much more room his ball might have had to slip through.
“I mean, those trees are tall,” he said. “They were tall the year before. They were tall last year. So I don’t know about the ice storm. I still flew it 360 (yards), so I hit it pretty far. And wasn’t like it was a low one. It was pretty high, too. So I can’t tell you on that, and you can’t see it from the tee.”
Witnesses from the far side of the 13th fairway say it hit at least one tree before bouncing out in perfect position. Watson doesn’t deny that.
“Well, I’m not very smart, but I can tell it hit some trees, because I mean, that’s not the line I really wanted to go on,” Watson admitted, though he didn’t hear anything. “All I did was put my head down just trying to listen, and all I heard was the crowd.”
It proved to be the defining moment of the tournament, with the eruption to his mammoth tee shot one of the few roars emitted on an unusually quiet Sunday on the final nine. Miguel Angel Jimenez’s 33 was the only score better than 1-under 35 among the top 13 finishers.
“Normally we hear roars on the back nine,” Watson said. “This year we didn’t. A lot of pars being made.”
With nobody making a charge, the biggest threat to Watson’s two-shot lead when he went to the 13th tee was himself.
“It was one of those things where I was trying to be aggressive because I knew that birdie, if nobody else birdies, birdie just puts me that far ahead or I have to birdie to keep up,” Watson said. “So yeah, I was trying to be aggressive, but obviously not that aggressive.”
It was a daring strategy considering the situation, but the conditions coaxed him into it.
“So when I got to the tee, the wind was coming a little off my right shoulder, so it was coming from right to left and down,” Watson explained. “So my caddie would say it’s like 50/50, so crossing and down; or he would say like 80/20, so 80 percent downwind and 20 percent from the right.
“So it’s one of those favorable (shots) the way I like to shape my ball, everything about it. The hole goes that way; the wind was going that way. It’s kind of like in ’12 when I hit the hook (in the playoff on the 10th hole), the wind was coming from the left. So when I hit the hook out of the trees, it was helping the hook.
“I just shoved it just a little bit. I don’t know if it was nerves, just a bad swing, whatever it was. I shoved it just a little bit. Obviously I caught enough of it.”
Had he not caught enough of it, the consequences might have been grim. The tee shot didn’t carry much dry land to get a favorable drop very far from Nelson’s Bridge if it had fallen into the creek’s tributary. Or it could have been lost. Either way, double bogey loomed large.
“I might have been able to drop it just across the creek right off the tee there because it obviously started to the right and then cut … let’s say 150 yards off the tee,” Watson said. “Lucky for me that I didn’t have to prove all that stuff. I hit sand wedge and then made birdie.”
The birdie was a dagger and left Spieth close to speechless.
“His drive on 13 I’ll never forget,” Spieth said. “Well, that’s his day, I guess.”
Watson, however, wasn’t so shocked at his power, which to him is routine. Is he ever amazed by the challenging shots he pulls off?
“I don’t know how to answer it the right way, but no,” he said. “I mean, it’s easy. Putting it all together for 18 holes or for four rounds of a tournament, I can’t win all the time, or I’m not going to win all the time.
‘‘But hitting some of the shots, there are certain shots when creativity is involved, the right situation, the right wind directions, the right feel – I feel like there’s no shot I can’t pull off.
“Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to pull it off every time. You give me enough balls, I’ll pull it enough. You give me enough chances. But no, there’s no shot that impresses me.”
GREAT MOMENTS ON NO. 13
The par-5 13th hole has produced some of the most memorable moments in Masters history. Here are some of the best, in chronological order:
1937: Byron Nelson charged to victory thanks to his eagle here in the final round. He made up six strokes at Nos. 12 and 13 with a birdie and eagle while Ralph Guldahl, meanwhile, played the two holes in 5-6.
1958: After a rules controvery at the 12th hole, Arnold Palmer hit a big drive at 13. Not knowing if the ruling would go his way, Palmer went for the green and made it to set up an 18-foot putt for eagle. When the putt dropped, Palmer flung his cap in the air. The ruling, and the tournament, went his way.
1994: In the final round, Jeff Maggert scored a rare double eagle on the 13th hole when he holed his 3-iron shot from 222 yards out. It was the third double eagle in tournament history and the only one on the 13th.
2010: Phil Mickelson had a two-shot lead, but his drive at 13 wound up in the pine straw. Facing a shot of 207 yards through a gap between two pine trees, Mickelson didn’t flinch. The 6-iron shot split the trees and ended up four feet from the pin. Mickelson missed the eagle putt, but the birdie helped him win his third green jacket.
2014: Bubba Watson hit a mammoth drive on the dogleg left hole in the final round, but it was unconventional. The left-handed Watson hit it over and through the pine trees, flirting with danger, and it traveled an estimated 370 yards. Watson made birdie to extend his lead and help him win his second green jacket in three years.