THEY can only be separated by around 100 yards. In terms of interest to the thousands of excited patrons flocking through the gates of Augusta National this week, however, they are miles apart.
Even on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, precious few are interested in the fairway bunker on the 18th hole from where Sandy Lyle hit a superb second shot to set up the birdie which enabled him to become the first British player to be Masters champion.
In contrast, just about everyone wants to see the spot in the trees at the right side of the tenth fairway from where Bubba Watson conjured up a miraculous recovery in a play-off 12 months ago to join the Scot as a member of the “Green Jacket Club”.
To be truthful, it’s easy to see why it has possibly become the most famous location in the event’s rich history. A wild tee shot should really have killed off Watson’s hopes in the title shoot-out against Louis Oosthuizen, yet the left-hander somehow managed to hook his ball 50 yards out of the trees and spun it to 15 ft.
“A lot of professionals can see a shot like that, but doing it is the hard part,” reflected Watson of a blow that definitely didn’t come out of an instruction manual and, in essence, involved him giving it an almighty whack. While Watson himself has resisted the temptation to return to the spot in his practice rounds this week, one of which was in the company of his wife, Angie, another former winner here, 1970 champion Billy Casper, has been among those making the pilgrimage.
“When me and my wife were coming off the 18th tee on Sunday, there was a group of three guys over at the spot. I couldn’t see who it was, but I yelled to tell, saying, ‘No, that’s not the spot, it’s a little over.’ I was just joking, but it turned out that it was Billy Casper and his son.”
Similar memorable shots in golf in the past have been marked by plaques, notably the one at the 17th hole at Lytham that marks the spot where Bobby Jones, with rough, bushes and bunkers blocking his way, produced a blow that won him the 1926 Open Championship. “Who wouldn’t want to see a plaque that says ‘Bubba’ in the middle of the pine straw,” said Watson when asked if he thought one would be appropriate for him. “But I would never ask for a plaque. If I do it again this year, then yes there maybe should be. But I certainly won’t be in there again on purpose.
“If we are going to do plaques here, where there’s been a lot of heroic shots in this championship, let’s do mine first. But I don’t think winners here are really worried about a plaque. Knowing that when you show up and have a Green Jacket sitting in the locker room is really what matters.”
Claiming his own left Bubba in tears. They were flowing again yesterday when he asked to share the most interesting thing he’d done in his Green Jacket over the past 12 months. Recalling how he’d wrapped his adopted son, Caleb, in it, his emotions took over to the extent that he couldn’t speak for around two minutes.
Feeling as though he’d be helping Watson by moving on, the moderator sitting at his side asked for another question. But Watson stopped him. “I’ll finish this one… or try to,” he eventually said, wiping away the tears. “Out of respect and honour for Augusta National and one of the greatest tournaments we have, I didn’t do any of my funny antics that I’d normally do.”
Watson, who was keeping his menu under wraps, also expected last night’s Champions’ Dinner to be an emotional occasion for him. “I don’t know if I have to talk at that, but if I do, I’ll probably cry,” he declared.
If he’s not bubbling, Bubba is making people laugh. He talked, for instance, about how Tom Watson was paying a keen interest in Bubba’s new hovercraft golf cart over lunch earlier in the week. “He wanted to talk about that more than anything else because he’s got a 400-acre farm,” said the defending champion.
On a more serious note, Watson is bidding to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only players in the event’s history to win it back-to-back. “My stats probably show that I was playing better coming into this event last year,” he said of his chances. “But my mind, my physical shape and my preparation have all been the same. It wouldn’t shock me if I pulled it off. But first off I want to make the cut because I don’t want to have to sit around before giving somebody the Green Jacket. I want to be here on Sunday playing.”