It has been said thousands of times; the Masters Tournament doesn’t really begin until the back nine on Sunday.
And maybe Bubba Watson was feeling the pressure that comes with leading one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments when he stood on the 10th tee Sunday, two shots ahead of 20-year-old Texan Jordan Spieth.
After all, it had already been a roller-coaster ride of a front nine.
Spieth, who started the day tied with Watson atop the leader board, actually took a two-stroke lead thanks to a birdie on the par-5 second hole and Watson’s bogey on the par-4 third.
But Watson, who already owns a green jacket after winning the tournament in 2012 and had a three-stroke lead after the first two rounds before stumbling a bit in his third round, showed championship mettle in turning a two-stroke deficit into the two-stroke lead he carried to the 63rd hole.
For starters, he answered his bogey on No. 3 with a birdie on the next hole, the par-3 fourth — his birdie putt made more difficult after Spieth chipped-in from the front bunker for an improbable birdie of his own.
He showed his mental toughness again on the sixth hole, another par-3, when he rolled in his 10-foot birdie putt with Spieth’s ball sitting just three feet from the cup for his own birdie attempt.
After a par on the next hole, Watson birdied the eighth and ninth holes while Spieth bogeyed both, setting the stage for the intensity the famed back nine at Augusta National Golf Club promises.
And I’m sure there were many viewers who thought the tournament was far from over at that point, especially since Watson took a bogey on No. 10 and Spieth made par to cut the lead to one stroke.
But Spieth bogeyed the par-3 12th, and Watson birdied the par-5 13th and both golfers played par golf the rest of the way for a somewhat undramatic ending.
Watson showed emotions that belie his generally laid-back nature with a fist-pump after he made a 5-foot par putt on the 17th hole, probably because he knew at that moment he was taking a three-stroke lead to the last hole.
His emotions shown through again when he tapped in for par on the last hole, hugging his caddie tightly and seemingly fighting back tears.
Now, I’m as big a fan of Tiger Woods as there is, and even though ESPN said first-round ratings were down about 800,000 viewers from the 2.8 million who tuned in to watch the opening round a year ago and attributed it to the absence of the No. 1 player in the world, I enjoyed every minute of this year’s Masters.
Watson’s play, and the eternal beauty of Augusta National, are two reasons why.