For those who eat and breathe game of golf, the 2012 edition of The Masters was a spectacle like no other. "One for the ages," as longtime Masters commentator Jim Nantz of CBS Sports has enunciated countless times.
There is something about Sunday at The Masters that makes it one of the most magical championship events - not just in professional golf, but in all of sports. Before you jump out of your chair and argue that nothing is bigger in sports than the Super Bowl, consider that after two weeks of wall-to-wall media coverage and commercial buildup, when it comes time for the actual game, it generally no different than any other big football game.
As it always seems to do, Sunday's final round at Augusta National Golf Club treated us monster drives off the tee, breathtaking, seemingly magical second shots into tightly guarded greens with perilous pin placements, and putting displays that left us wondering both "how on earth did he make that," and "how could he miss that."
At the end of the day - literally as the sun was setting and the time was close to 7:30 p.m. on the East Coast, the winner of the 76th Masters didn't come from the final pairing on Sunday. It also didn't come after a regulation 72 holes. A young man they call Bubba, from Bagdad (in Florida) came from three shots down on the final day, firing an 18-hole score of four-under 68 to tie South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, who had led the tournament most of the day on Sunday before Bubba Watson caught him on the 16th hole following four consecutive birdies.
Then on the second playoff hole pitting Watson and Oosthuizen, two men with completely contrasting golf styles and demeanors, Watson turned a nearly impossible situation into one of golf's magical moments. With his tee shot nestled in the pine straw following an errant drive deep into the trees on hole No. 10, Watson, who has developed a reputation for using booming power off the tee and creative shot-making as key attributes of his game, executed the second best shot in the tournament (more on that shortly), hitting a high, curving approach shot over the facing Georgia pines, 155 yards and somehow landing safely in the middle of the green.
It was a picturesque shot very typical of Watson's fearless and confident approach to the game, and flawlessly executed at one of the most nerve-wracking points in the first major golf championship of the year. Oosthuizen appeared to have victory back within his grasp after hitting his tee shot on the second playoff hole just into the first cut, well down the fairway on No, 10. But then he left his second shot short of the green an in a precarious position for his chip up onto the green.
The South African two putted for a bogey five. Meanwhile, Watson, who said to reporters after his winning round that the back nine on Sunday was a complete blur and that he couldn't remember any of it, easily two putted for the playoff victory and his first major championship.
The win Sunday at Augusta was Watson's fifth career victory on the PGA Tour. Not bad for a man who taught himself how to play golf and reportedly has never watched a video of his golf swing. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Watson unhesitatingly acknowledges that golf isn't everything in his life, but he will also tell you that "if I have a swing, I've got a shot." That describes his approach to the game and why shots like the one he made in his second tour at No, 10 on Sunday was not as impossible in his mind as it may have seemed to all of us nervously watching.
I say Watson's improbable second shot on the second playoff hole was the second best of the day because his playoff partner, Oosthuizen, holed a sensational 260-yard double eagle on the par-5 hole No. 2 on Sunday, the first double eagle of his career and the first ever recorded at The Masters. That shot vaulted Oosthuizen from one stroke off of the lead at minus-seven to 10-under and the tournament lead, which he didn't relinquish for another 14 holes.
Aside from Oosthuizen himself, who was shooting for his second major championship (he won the 2011 Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland), probably the most disappointed person that Oosthuizen wasn't able to hold on Sunday at Augusta was fellow countryman and last year's Masters champion, Charles Swartzel, who would have liked nothing better than having been able to present the green jacket to his lifelong friend.
After putting out for the championship, the man who exhibited nerves of steel and a nearly flawless game in mastering one of golf's toughest tests over August National's demanding, long 7,235-yard, par-72 championship layout, showed he is human, breaking down in tears while receiving a congratulatory hug from his mother.
Asked afterward if this moment is something he had dreamed of, a still not fully composed Watson responded, "I never got this far in my dreams, so it's not a dream come true. If I wouldn't have won today, it wouldn't have been the end of the world," he said. "To win is awesome, but I'll go back to real life next week. I still haven't changed a diaper. "(He and his wife, Angie, have an adopted one-month-old baby boy.)
Surprisingly, perhaps, Oosthuizen wasn't as downtrodden at having the victory in one of golf's major championships stolen away from him by Watson's spectacular Sunday finish.
"Bubba just hit an unbelievable shot there on 10," Oosthuizen said. "I didn't play badly. Bubba earned it."
Going into the final round at this year's Masters, all eyes were on 42-year-old Phil Mickelson, who was one shot off of the lead heading into Sunday's final 18 holes. Mickelson, a three-time winner at The Masters (2004, 2006 and 2010), found himself in the nearly impossible position of having to come back from two triple bogeys during the tournament (something that no Masters winner has ever had to do), the second of which came early in the round on Sunday.
Lefty, as Mickelson is nicknamed on the tour, scored a highly uncharacteristic six on the par-3 fourth hole. Instead of collapsing from there, however, Mickelson fought on, recording three birdies and no bogeys for the balance of the round. He finished two shots back of Watson and Oosthuizen, tied for third, with a tournament score of eight-under 280.
You could say that it was a typical Sunday at the Masters, with the beautiful sights and sounds of spring and a picturesque backdrop. But it really wasn't. All of the Masters Tournaments are filled with thrilling moments and lasting memories. Even so, this year's Masters was anything but one of many. It falls more into the category of one of a kind and one for the ages.
For more news and information and interesting story lines from the 2012 Masters and previous Masters Tournaments, check out the official Masters website.