By Brendan Boylan,
Part of what makes sport attractive is the array of characters that star therein. And the flamboyant ones always seem to have even more drawing power. Think of Owen Mulligan’s bleached head (now ponytailed!), Cristiano Ronaldo’s mesmerising, often infuriating trickery, Frankie Dettori’s flying dismounts, the list goes on.
Golf has some of them too. The fashion sense of John Daly and Ricky Fowler makes them both stand out, never mind the fact that both are also prodigiously talented players. Daly mightn’t be as sharp as he once was, but he still makes compelling viewing – if only for the clothes – when he’s in action. There’s something attractive about the unusual.
Thus, Phil Mickelson became an instant favourite when he was first seen. Doubtless, there were other talented left handed players before him, but, in my lifetime, Phil was the first one to make a really big impact. Surely in golf, the mark of being top class has to be contention in Majors. Like Tiger Woods when he was in his heyday, Mickelson always seems to be there or thereabouts and his already bagged three of them.
His status as leading ‘Lefty’ could now be under threat however. Earlier this year, a newcomer called Brian Harmon was noted, but it would have to be said that Bubba Watson is now very close to, if not the outright leading southpaw in the game following his astonishing run in at the recent US Masters at Augusta.
Though 33, Watson only seems to have come to prominence in the last couple of seasons. Not always for the right reasons either. His utter petulance and sulky attitude in France last year didn’t sit too well in a lot of places. It may have been a blessing in disguise for the man himself though. Even watching on television he seems a different guy from the downtrodden, almost disinterested Parisian escapade.
Events off the course might have a fair deal to do with that too. For on the course his class has never been in doubt. Much like Ronaldo on a soccer pitch, Bubba gives you the impression he do things with a golf ball no-one else can. Furthermore, you never know what he’s going to do next and there are times when one wonders if he knows himself.
You’d think that last part might impinge on his chances of winning a Major as slow and steady would seem the obvious path to success. But, in the end, it was his ability to conjure up the unlikely that ultimately saw Bubba don his first green jacket after an exhilarating conclusion that encapsulated the aura of Augusta.
When Mickelson came charging up the leader board with a Saturday 66, and with Swede Peter Hanson the only one ahead of him, it appeared that ‘Lefty’ would be getting his fourth blazer, this time from Charl Schwartzel – who, lest we forget – benefitted from Rory McIlroy’s meltdown last year. Golf is a fickle, fragile game though. The only certainty is the uncertainty.
Hanson’s lack of ‘big game’ experience eventually told while Phil – though continuing to battle valiantly – realistically blew his chance when taking a six on the third. All of which opened the door for Louis Oosthuizen who gave himself a right chance of making it back to back Masters titles for South Africa when holing an amazing double eagle on the second.
Perhaps, however, that shot was ultimately his undoing as he seemed to lose focus thereafter. And all the while, Bubba crept into the picture. His eccentricity forever shining through, a bright pink driver ensured he was never going to be far from focus anyway, but it was his four birdie stretch between 13 and 16 which really turned the tide in his favour, not to mention some of the audacious shots he was pulling off in the process.
What was also intriguing, and pleasing, was how he reacted to the idiocy and fickleness going on around him by, at his enigmatic best, producing shots of genius. In the column about the Super Bowl keyboarded earlier this year, reference was made to the American tendency to exaggerate things. That includes their reactions while watching golf! On two holes in fairly quick succession, a hollering idiot visibly unsettled Bubba.
Watson of last season would’ve either sulked or lost the head, this time around though his golf got more sublime as he went on. Never more so though than on the tenth – which was the second playoff hole after both he and Oosthuizen had spurned chances to win it in regulation and then parred the 18th in the first part of the playoff.
When Watson shanked his drive to ten second time round into a clump of trees and onto pinestraw, it appeared the pendulum had swung away from him. As often happens though, his opponent then followed with an equally erratic tee shot. Which opened the door for another piece of Watson wonder work as he produced an exquisite wedge shot that left him with two putts for the title, the second of which he duly sunk.
So, Bubba joins new Major winners McIlroy, Schwartzel, Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley as the pecking order in golf continues to change.