Maybe Bubba Watson is starting to follow a pattern Arnold Palmer started in the late 1950s in the Masters Tournament.
Palmer won at Augusta National Golf Club in even-numbered years: 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.
With Watson’s three-shot victory Sunday, he has won in 2012 and 2014.
The former Georgia golfer mentioned a possible “every other year” victory scenario at Augusta National during the green jacket ceremony Sunday. As defending champion in 2013, Watson had presented the green jacket to Adam Scott when he won that year. Scott returned the favor Sunday.
“After giving away that jacket last year, I kind of wanted it back,” Watson said. “So I told Adam that we should just keep switching back and forth.”
At the prime of his career at age 35, Watson is getting better every year, according to caddie Ted Scott, who has been on his bag since 2011.
“That’s one thing that’s so neat about him that, every year, at the end of the season, he stops, he evaluates, and then he says, ‘how can I get better,’” Scott said. “Every year Bubba gets better mentally.”
The way Watson won for the second time at Augusta National was even more impressive than the first, when he needed extra holes to take the title. This time, he led by three shots after opening rounds of 69-68, fell back into a tie for the 54-hole lead with 74. He closed with 69 – two shots better than any one within five shots of him entering the final round.
“This one is a lot different. The first one for me it’s almost like I lucked into it. This one was a lot of hard work, dedication, and got back here,” he said.
Watson struggled after winning the 2012 Masters, finishing in a tie for 50th in his defense and going nearly two years before winning again.
“For me I didn’t know how to handle it the best way, and so I didn’t play my best golf last year,” he said. “It (was) going to take me some time. I do everything my way. I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way.”
“I can tell you,” Scott said, “last year was a rough year with the pressure of trying to prove yourself.”
In addition to “learning how to become a great champion” as the Masters winner after his first victory, Watson said he was learning how to became a family man. During the Masters, he and his wife, Angie, were finalizing the adoption of Caleb, who is now 3.
What Watson described as his “Masters hangover” year of 2013 really hit home when the season ended. He didn’t win a tournament, he’d dropped from fifth to 38th in the FedEx Cup standings and he didn’t qualify for the Presidents Cup team.
“When the team event (Presidents Cup) was going on and I wasn’t there, you know, all those things hit you,” Watson said. “You’re thinking you have the ability to do this; you have the ability to perform at a high level; you’ve done it before. Are you going to dedicate yourself? Are you going to practice?
“What I had to do was learn how to work more efficiently,” Watson said. “If that meant 30 minutes a day on the range or 15 minutes on the range and 15 minutes putting, that’s what I needed to do. I need to be a dad and take care of my boy when my wife can rest. And then set a time a day when I have a week off, the time here; I’ve got 30 minutes here, I’ve got an hour here. So I just had to dedicate myself and be more efficient when I was practicing to get back to a level that I want to play at.”
He’s back there now.
A victory in mid-February moved him from 25th to 14th in the world ranking. He entered in the Masters ranked 12th and is now fourth. He also moved up to second on the FedEx Cup standings and is a lock to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the September matches.
Watson is famous for being easily distracted and wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He’s learned to be more even-keeled on the course, Scott said.
“This year he’s been really fantastic with keeping control of his mind,” he said. “On Saturday, when things weren’t going well, I was in his ear saying, ‘come on, man.’ And he said, ‘I got it, man, I’m fine.’
“So I didn’t have to cheer him up, I didn’t have to pump him up, I didn’t have to encourage him. He was flat pretty much as far as his attitude, taking the good with the bad.”
That might have been more important than any shot Watson hit last week because Augusta National played so tough. Only seven players – the fewest since no one did it in 2007 – finished under par for the week.
Scott said to win a major championship on a difficult course such as Augusta National, a player has to stay positive, just as Watson did as he was shooting 74 on Saturday.
“As soon as you get thinking the wrong way, you’re done,” Scott said. “Because the course is so hard, it’s so difficult. Obviously, you can look at the scores where there was six or seven people under par. It’s a major championship golf course. If you get to thinking sour for one minute, you’re going to back up quick.”