In order to feel the pressure of the Masters, there must be people to provide it. Indeed, in order for the Masters to feel like the Masters, there must be moments when one roar is trumped by another, a full house suddenly and impossibly outdone by a straight flush. It is what defines spring Sundays at Augusta National.
Yet here was Bubba Watson, standing on the 18th tee Sunday, pulling a 4-wood from his bag and hitting a nice, comfortable draw down the center of the fairway. Ho-hum.
If he was sweating, it was solely because of the heat. Watson is perhaps the most dynamic player in golf, yet to win what is annually one of the most harrowing events in sports, he closed with five straight pars, hugged his wife and son, and slipped easily into his second green jacket in three years.
"Nobody really caught fire," Watson said.
What an odd thing to say about any Masters, particularly one involving Watson, 35, who spits out birdies and bogeys by the bunch, a golfing Tilt-a-Whirl.
This is to take nothing away from what Watson accomplished Sunday, controlling the tournament — his ball, his emotions, his fate — with a final-round 3-under 69 that left him at 8-under 280, three shots better than 20-year-old Jordan Spieth (72), his playing partner in the final group, and Jonas Blixt (71), another Masters rookie.
Contrast this with Watson's first Masters win, which came in 2012 in a playoff over Louis Oosthuizen, when he pulled off a ridiculous shot — a slinging hook off pine straw — with the most intense pressure. What will define this Masters? How about a stat straight from the U.S. Open: The top three finishers combined to make two birdies on the back nine.
"Playing this way was a lot better, a lot easier," said Watson, who was one shot back after the first round and led after the second and third rounds.
It is also a measure of how much easier Watson's life has become in general. The week before his first Masters victory, he and his wife, Angie, adopted a 1-month-old boy, Caleb. Watson nearly skipped the tournament. When he won, he had to call Angie, who was at home. The native of Bagdad in the Florida Panhandle then effectively went into a slump that lasted a year and a half, the amount of time it took to figure out how to balance work and family.
Sunday night, when he made his final par, Angie and Caleb embraced him on the 18th green. All this would seem to make him a more balanced, more grown man.
"He's gone from like (age) 12½ to 14," said Rickie Fowler, Watson's good friend, who finished tied for fifth with Matt Kuchar (74), six strokes back, after a final-round 73. "He's getting there. He's always going to be a kid at heart. But mentally and with his golf game and as a dad and a person, he's definitely grown up."
There were two particular moments that, if they didn't change the tournament, at least helped Watson define it as his. At the par-5 13th, Watson hit a titanic, slicing drive — of which Spieth said, "I'll never forget" — that looked as if it might go out of bounds. Instead, it clipped some trees and landed some 366 yards from the tee, eliciting roars.
"You hear a roar on your tee shot," Watson said, "you know it's pretty good."
It led to his only birdie on the back.
At the par-5 15th, he appeared to be blocked out to the left, with a pair of huge trees in front of him. He pulled a 6-iron, choked up and punched it through the limbs.
"For him, it's not that big a deal," said his caddie, Ted Scott. "I'm like, 'That's not a big gap.' For him, he sees huge gaps."
Now, too, he sees his life as complete. He has not one Masters, but two. And this time as he left the 18th green, he did so with Caleb in his arms, high-fiving fans on the way by.
The Masters might not have felt like the Masters from the outside, but try telling that to Bubba Watson.