AUGUSTA, Ga. — When we started Sunday at Augusta National, we knew the afternoon would be filled with fireworks for fans and firing squads for the frontrunners.
We knew it because this is the Masters, and that's what we've come to expect.
Oh the storylines. Forget the cover of Sports Illustrated, with a 20-year-old, a self-admitted Florida panhandle country boy named Bubba, and two 50-somethings in the mix, photo sessions with Teen Beat, Field and Stream and AARP were possible too.
At the Masters of all places, where anything happens and the drama means more than the cast of characters, this was going to be great.
Then the Masters became, dare we say, boring. It was a march rather than a dance, a marathon more than a sprint. It became a drive-for-dreams, two-putt-for-green procession that champion Bubba Watson did better than the rest.
It started under the blue skies of a Chamber of Commerce day, the players furiously looking for red numbers in pursuit of a Masters green jacket. It was a Kaleidoscope of chaos early. It became a portrait of pars late.
"I was just trying to hold," Watson said.
Holding on is fine the rest of the season. But here ... Forget holding on; the Masters should be grabbed rather nuzzled.
Watson beat the field by three shots and he had that lead for the last six holes. It's his second major and delivers a nice check worth $1.62 million that made the Watson clan cry. (Side question: Can any one else imagine Jack Nicklaus crying after a win? Didn't think so, but then again when Jack won his sixth and final green jacket in 1986, he got $144,000. Good money to be sure, but not necessarily tear-jerking money.)
The Masters is supposed to be the major that guys go and win with birdies and eagles that generate those bark-rustling roars through the Georgia pines that create wonder among players and patrons alike.
The biggest roars Sunday were for Bubba's blasting tee shot -- 366 yards in all -- on 13 and his approach on the last that all-but sealed the tournament.
The saying goes that the Masters does not really start until the back nine on Sunday, and if that's the case, this one never got going. Of the top 13 finishers in this Masters, exactly one player shot better than 35 on the back nine Sunday. One. And that was Miguel Angel Jimenez, who made the turn six shots back and was so carefree by that point that he was more likely to play without a shirt than add a green jacket.
No one mounted a charge against Watson, especially after he put together back-to-back two-shot swings on playing competitor Jordan Spieth to close the front nine.
It will be interesting how history treats this Masters. It could be viewed as the launching spot for Watson, who is now one of just 17 players with multiple Masters wins. It could be viewed as launching point of Spieth, the 20-year-old prodigy. It also could be a bad omen for a future in which the current stars of today that were not in this Masters will be missed more than we may know.
The TV ratings were poor -- the first two rounds were down an average of 36 percent. Final-round badges could be had for a quarter of the price of last year. The play was OK and even good at times, but above average should never be the metric at Augusta National.
The course was sun-baked and wind-whipped after an aggressive winter icing thinned the protecting pines along the fairways and had the feel of a U.S. Open course around the greens. It was so unnerving on the putting surface, that the only edge players could truly grasp was distance, especially off the tee, and Watson is by far duke of the driver and the lord of length.
Overmatched by Watson's driver, Spieth was unable to mount a charge late. He sprinted from the gates, making birdies on four of the first seven holes and taking a two-shot lead early before the hiccups turned into coughs right before the turn.
He's disappointed with the final sentences of this first Masters chapter -- by the end his frustration was even visible to Stevie Wonder -- but a measure of perspective for this kid is fair and prudent.
Spieth appears to be the game's future. A combination of talent and will, not highlighted singularly by his length or his touch, but the complete collection of skills. He is renowned for his advanced level of accomplishment at such a rapid rate. He is not the "Oh My!" talent that Woods was at that age. Nor does he dazzle with the "He did WHAT?" moments like a young Phil. Nor the inexplicable length that is perfect for the Augusta National shrine like Bubba.
No, Spieth is more about the sum of his parts than any single amazing attribute, and here's believing that even though Spieth finished tied for second, his best Masters is still in front him.
"The game of golf is challenging [and] he's trying to hit great shots," Watson said of the kid that could be the future heavyweight of the game. "He just didn't make the putts. It's difficult [out there], and that's where the nerves get in real fast.
"Luckily for me, no one made putts."
Yes, luckily for you, Bubba, but unlucky for the rest of us who hope for more drama on Sunday at Augusta National.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...