Bubba Watson won the Masters two years ago with his brand of "Bubba golf," producing shots of raw skill and wild imagination. His strategy now is to keep it simple, and he is halfway to another green jacket.
Watson took over Augusta National on Friday with 75 minutes of brilliance and power. On another demanding day of crispy greens and swirling wind, he ran off five straight birdies on the back nine and wound up with a 4-under 68 for a three-shot lead over John Senden.
There's nothing fancy about his golf, except for his outrageous length. He has made only two bogeys in 36 holes. He has missed only eight greens.
"It's not science here," Watson said. "It's try to hit the greens. And if you're hitting the greens, that means you're obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that's all I'm trying to do is just hit the greens ... maybe throw in a birdie here or there. That's what I've done the last two days and it's worked out so far."
Watson made bogey on the 18th hole with a shot that bounced left of the green and into the gallery. He finished at 7-under 137, giving him the largest 36-hole lead at the Masters since Chad Campbell in 2006.
Senden qualified for the Masters a month ago with his win at Innisbrook. After a rugged start, he played the final 14 holes with six birdies and no bogeys for a 68 that puts him in the last group at a major on the weekend.
Adam Scott also made a late recovery with three birdies on the back nine to salvage a 72, along with his hopes to join Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win back-to-back at Augusta. Scott was four shots back at 141, along with Thomas Bjorn (68), Jonas Blixt (71) and Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old from Texas who looked solid on the mystifying greens and shot a 70.
"Bubba is tearing it up," Spieth said. "So we've got to go get him."
The chase includes the ageless Fred Couples, who won the Masters a year before Spieth was born. Couples, cool as ever at 54, had another 71 and was five back.
Woods, who missed the Masters for the first time in 20 years because of back surgery, won't be the only guy watching on television. Phil Mickelson made another triple bogey — three shots from the bunkers on the par-3 12th hole — for a 73 and missed the cut for the first time since 1997. So did Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Jason Dufner.
Rory McIlroy nearly joined them. He hit one tee shot over the fourth green, past the head of Adam Scott on the fifth tee and into the bushes for a double bogey. Another shot hit a sprinkler head and landed in the azaleas behind the 13th green. He had to make a 6-foot par putt to make the cut at 4-over 148.
Watson seems further away from the field than just three shots.
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was nine shots behind, but not ready to give up because the leader often comes back to the field — although he admitted that former champs are less likely to collapse.
"But there's no give on this golf course," Rose said. "The hole can start looking awfully small, and those lakes can start to look awfully big."
The only thing that looked big to Watson was the size of the cup.
His birdie streak started and ended with a 9-iron to short range on par 3s — 3 feet on the 12th, 4 feet on the 16th. He got up-and-down for birdies on the par 5s. And in the middle of that great run was a putt that defines the vexing greens of Augusta.
Watson had a 40-foot putt on the 14th hole that probably traveled 50 feet after it turned nearly 90 degrees to the left and rolled into the cup. Just his luck, Garcia had a chip shot that rolled over the spot where Watson had marked his putt and showed him the way.
"Without Sergio's chip, I probably would have three-putted it," Watson said.
That's really the only break he needed in the second round. His golf is amazingly simple for such a complicated personality. Watson, whose victory at Riviera in February was his first since the 2012 Masters, said he was helped by not having all the attention on him this week. He didn't have to host the Champions Dinner. He didn't have to go through the process of returning the green jacket.
Even so, the Masters is just getting started.
The 36-hole leader goes on to win the Masters just over one-third of the time, and only two players — Mike Weir in 2003 and Trevor Immelman in 2008 — have done it since 2000. And while Watson is a major champion, this will be the first time he sleeps on the lead at a major.
"It's starting to get pretty easy to drop shots out there," Scott said. "Tomorrow is a big day for everyone."
MASTERS’ NOTEBOOK: HANDS UP, BODE MILLER, AND SURRENDER THE QUESADILLA
AUGUSTA, Ga. — U.S. skier Bode Miller and wife Morgan Beck have a story to tell about the Masters.
According to the Augusta Chronicle, Miller and Beck were stopped on their way to the course Thursday and told to get rid of a quesadilla they had hoped to snack on during the first round.
“If you pay $7,500, you ought to be able to bring out a quesadilla,” Miller said.
The couple was eating at Berckmans Place, a posh hospitality venue tucked behind trees alongside the fifth fairway. The facility, which opened last year, is available to club members, tournament sponsors and select others. The tent has three main restaurants, walls of Masters history, areas to watch the tournament and a practice putting area that’s a replica of three Augusta National greens.
— Mark Long, https://twitter.com/APMarkLong
TALL TASK: John Isner should be able to find his friends fairly easily at crowded Augusta National.
The 6-foot-10 tennis player, who is ranked ninth in the latest ATP standings, arrived at the Masters on Friday and started searching for his fellow Georgia Bulldogs.
There are a bunch of them in the field.
“It’s very cool,” Isner said. “It’s crazy, really. Not to mention there’s probably five or six others that have their (tour) card as well. A lot of Bulldogs, and we are in Georgia, so these guys are going to get a lot of support.”
Bubba Watson, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Russell Henley played at Georgia, and Patrick Reed started his college career at Georgia before transferring to Augusta State.
Isner won’t have much trouble spotting them. After all, when you’re the tallest guy on the grounds, you don’t have jockey for a clear view.
— Mark Long
CROWD NOISE: The first tee at Augusta National is a social place. The clubhouse is nearby, along with the big oak tree that has become THE gathering spot during the Masters.
So everyone crowds around the opening tee, making it an entertaining spot to listen to spectator chatter.
Here are a few examples from Friday when Angel Cabrera, Ian Poulter and Gary Woodland were teeing off.
One observer on Cabrera, an Argentinian who’s modestly listed at 210 pounds: “He looks just like me. He has no neck.”
Another one on Poulter, a Brit who’s known as much for his colorful outfits as his golf: “Oh my God. He’s wearing sherbet-lime-green shoes that perfectly match his shirt and pants. I love those shoes!”
Woodland, an American who’s considered one of the biggest hitters on tour, was also fair game: “Watch him hit a feather cut up the hill about 325.”
Hard to argue with those assessments.
— Mark Long
TIGER FACTOR: Television already is feeling the effects of not having Tiger Woods at the Masters.
In a release, ESPN said its live telecast of the opening round Thursday had a 1.5 rating with an average audience of 2 million viewers. That’s down from a 2.0 rating and 2.8 million viewers from a year ago.
— Doug Ferguson, https://twitter.com/dougferguson405
SENIOR WARMUP: Seven golfers at the Masters will have a short trip to their next event: They’ll be playing at a Champions Tour event in suburban Atlanta.
Fifty-four-year-old Fred Couples is the latest senior to commit to the Greater Gwinnett Championship, which will be held next weekend at the TPC Sugarloaf in suburban Atlanta.
That setup is mighty convenient. The Sugarloaf course, which once hosted a PGA Tour event, is about a 2½-hour drive from Augusta National.
Also going straight from the Masters to the Greater Gwinnett Championship are Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Larry Mize, Mark O’Meara and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who will make his Champions Tour debut at Sugarloaf. The Spaniard turned 50 on Jan. 5.
Of course, all seven have their minds on more important matters at the moment. Especially Jimenez, Couples and Langer, who are actually in contention after the opening round of the Masters.
Jimenez and Couples opened with 1-under-par 71s and Langer shot 72, leaving them all within four shots of leader Bill Haas.
— Paul Newberry, https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
LONG LINE: Getting a photo at the Masters takes patience — maybe because it’s free.
Spectators aren’t allowed to bring cameras or cellphones onto the hallowed grounds during the four-day tournament, so they have few chances to get precious pics on the pristine course.
And if you want to get one in front of the famed clubhouse, get in line — a long line.
More than a hundred people were waiting for their shot Friday morning, hanging out in the warm sun for a couple quick clicks. The photos are free — quite the deal at a place where weekly passes can go for thousands of dollars on the open market.
“It’s a free gig,” a security guard told those in line.
He also had a word of caution: “If you lose your card, you lose your photo.”
— Mark Long
Masters Watch follows golf’s first major of the year and all the activities surrounding the big event in Augusta, Ga., as seen by journalists from The Associated Press.
LEFTY OUT: MICKELSON MISSES MASTERS CUT
BY DOUG FERGUSON Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson will be watching the final two rounds of the Masters from home for the first time in 17 years.
And it’s no mystery why.
“It’s tough to overcome those big numbers,” Mickelson said Friday after a 1-over 73.
Mickelson made two triple bogeys at Augusta National two years ago and nearly won another green jacket. After making two of them in consecutive days this year he missed the cut for only the second time.
He was at 5-over 149. Mickelson could have fired up a private jet to head home after he signed his card, except that the Masters changed its cut policy this year. The top 50 and ties — up from the top 44 — made the cut.
“It’s right on the bubble,” he said before the cut was decided. “I don’t want to be looking for the leaderboard, but I’m always fighting to make the weekend, it seems like.”
Lefty came up short this time.
Mickelson was chipping from about 30 feet away on No. 7 in the opening round when it rolled off the green and led to a triple bogey. And then on Friday, watching him play the par-3 12th hole was like watching a tennis match.
His tee shot cleared Rae’s Creek — typically the first big concern — and found the front bunker. His next shot sailed over the green and fell into the side of the back bunker. From there, he blasted through the green and back into the same bunker where his troubles began.
He got that out to about 18 feet and two-putted for a triple bogey.
Throw in that double bogey on the par-5 15th in the opening round when his wedge spun back off the green and into the water, and it’s clear why Mickelson’s bid to join Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer with a fourth Masters title dissolved rather quickly.
“What happened at 12 was I hit in the front bunker, and there was no sand where I was at,” Mickelson said. “I caught the liner of the bunker and bladed it across the green and the same thing happened on the other side. It went back and forth, three bunkers, before I finally got it to stay on grass.”
Mickelson, who withdrew after two rounds at Torrey Pines because of a sore back, pulled out on the weekend of the Texas Open with a pulled muscle in his oblique. But he said injuries were not the problem this week.
What concerned Mickelson was not playing enough going into the Masters. He said he was worried that he might not be sharp, and he was right.
“That’s what I’ve been nervous about is having a hole like 7 (Thursday), a hole like 12 today,” Mickelson said. “... Instead of one sliding, two or three are going away. That’s the kind of stuff when you’re playing tournament golf and you’re mentally sharp you don’t do.”
Mickelson last missed the cut at Augusta in 1997, the year Woods won by a record 12 shots. He said he’ll likely watch the rest if tournament on television.
“It’s an exciting tournament. I probably will,” Mickelson said. “Kind of be my punishment.”
TIM DAHLBERG COLUMN: MASTERS MIGHT CONSIDER WATSON MONUMENT
BY TIM DAHLBERG Associated Press Columnist
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson was playing his way down the 10th fairway, trying to forget about the photographer who got in his way the hole before and quite possibly cost him the first bogey of his Masters.
Deep in the woods to the right, about 20 people gathered around an opening in the trees to relive Watson’s famous shot from two years ago, seemingly oblivious to the fact the man who hit it was walking by just a few yards away.
“They really should put a plaque here,” one said, trying to figure out just where Watson carved a shot around the trees to win his first green jacket in a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen.
The way Watson took command of the Masters on the back nine Friday that might not be enough. If he keeps overpowering Augusta National this way, they may have to give him a monument someday.
Drives that go so far there are no trees to stop them. Nine-irons that fly 186 yards. And five straight birdies through a wind that did more than just whisper through the Georgia pines.
All by a lefthander with a funny swing, a pink driver, and a way of talking that makes it sound like he’s in a hurry to get to the airport for the next flight to Atlanta.
“I’ve never had a swing coach, never had a lesson,” Watson said. “So it’s all slap cuts, I guess you could say, with my driver. They get out there pretty far, though.”
That’s hardly a revelation for anyone who watched Watson win here two years ago when he went on a back nine birdie binge to tie Oosthuizen. He then hit it deep into the trees on No. 10 before bending a wedge shot almost 90 degrees onto the green for the winning birdie.
It was one of the most improbable shots ever, one that will live in Masters lore. But some thought the win was a fluke, especially when Watson went into a lengthy slump while trying to deal with the demands of being a Masters champion.
“How many green jackets you got?” he asked. “If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two.”
Watson said he spent far too much time dealing with sponsors and trying to juggle family life with the infant son he and his wife adopted just before the Masters win. He wasn’t practicing well, and there were those thousands of yellow flags he had to sign.
By the time Watson won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year, he was wondering if he would ever win again.
“You know, I do everything my way,” he said. “I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today.”
Where that was Friday was three shots ahead of John Senden as Watson wrapped up business early and headed back to his rental home. He’s got two of them here, so he and his wife and son can stay in one while friends and relatives get the other.
He needs the quiet, needs to get away from everything that is the Masters.
“Like yesterday, when I got done, I knew how good the round was, so no TV was turned on,” Watson said. “I didn’t want to hear anything. I just want to play my golf, and that’s what I’ve been doing over the last year and a half since I won.”
That might be even harder to do should the game plan he brought here this week end up succeeding. He wants to keep it as simple as possible, hitting fairways and greens and letting everything else take care of itself.
It didn’t work on the ninth hole, where Watson stopped in mid-swing when a photographer moved in front of him. But the run he then made on the back nine showed that being his own psychologist may be working.
“What I’m trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing,” Watson said. “As a kid, you don’t think about the bad days. You always think about the great days. So playing here at Augusta, there’s a lot of people that wished they could play this tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this tournament more than once.”
Even better for Watson is that he’s 36 holes away from winning it more than once.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.
|At Augusta National Golf Club|
|Yardage: 7,435; Par: 72|
|Brendon de Jonge||74-72—146||+2|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez||71-76—147||+3|
|Jose Maria Olazabal||74-74—148||+4|
Failed to qualify