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Bend it Like Bubba + Masters Takeaways

Bubba Watson - Masters Round UpLike Jack Nicklaus grinding over a 3-foot putt, I prefer to take my time before weighing in after a major. Unlike Nicklaus, I often miss the hole entirely.

Then again, I don’t have a giant cardboard check or green jacket at stake, either. That means I’m free to let fly with opinions without fearing the consequences.

So here you go, my takeaways from the 2012 Masters:

How fitting that the winner of the first Masters since Seve Ballesteros’ untimely passing was a guy whose approach to golf is eerily Seve-like. In Bubba Watson, the game has a new savant, a shot-bending virtuoso who thinks about his swing plane as often as a dog frets over taxes.

Overhead View Bubba Watson Masters Hook Shot

Overhead View of Bubba's Winning Shot

Like Seve, Watson delights in manufacturing shots other golfers would never imagine. It’s as far from the calculating methodology of most modern pros as Bagdad, Florida – Bubba’s hometown – is from Seve’s beloved Pedreña, Spain.

I share others’ hope that Watson’s win will usher in a new era of creativity in golf. It’s not only more fun to watch, it’s more fun to play when feel trumps form. I’m not optimistic, though, especially when it comes to talented young players.

With so much competition for scholarship money and professional millions, controlling every aspect of a youngster’s “career” – right down to building a bullet-proof swing – is seen as the surest path.

But for now we can enjoy watching Bubba do his thing. He may lack Seve’s elegance and flair, but his ballstriking brilliance is pure Ballesteros.

Watching Watson always reminds me of Bobby Jones’ iconic assessment of a young Jack Nicklaus:

[quote style=”1″]He plays a game with which I’m not familiar.    Bobby Jones[/quote]

One more Bubba-Seve reverie: How awesome would it have been if they could’ve met in a Ryder Cup singles match? I guess that’s what heaven is for…

Were you as shocked as I was by Rory McIroy’s weekend flameout? When McIroy closed the second round just one shot behind Fred Couples, I thought green jacket was his (McIlroy’s) to lose. In fact, I predicted the curly-haired Ulsterman would win by three shots or more.

Nice call, Mitchell.

McIroy ran away, all right – in the wrong direction. He double-bogeyed the first hole Saturday and never recovered, shooting 77 and following up with a final-round 76. McIlroy tied for 40th with, among others, Tiger Woods (more on him momentarily), putting a halt to predictions of a Tiger-like run of major titles.

For now, though, McIlroy is still the game’s best player. By the way, he turns 23 in a few weeks, meaning he’s got a lot of learning left to do. I’m sure he took something positive from his latest Augusta disaster.

The weekend’s second most-surprising flop? That belonged to Phil Mickelson, and I’m not talking about Saturday’s ridiculous pitch shot on No. 15. With McIroy down for the count, I had Mickelson pegged as the clear favorite on Sunday. A classic-Phil triple bogey on No. 4 was all she wrote.

I gotta get out of the prediction business.

I did come close to nailing one, though. Earlier this year I declared that Matt Kuchar would break through for his first major victory in 2012. He tied for third, two shots out of the playoff, and I stand by my statement – Kuchar wins one of the remaining three biggies.

Louis Oosthuizen’s final-round double-eagle was one for the ages, for sure. His near-victory also establishes the genteel South African as the genuine article, a likely contender in many more majors. Be honest – did you expect to hear from Oosthuizen so soon after his stunning 2010 Open triumph at St. Andrews? Didn’t think so.

Oh yeah, about that Tiger fella… Last week in this very space, a foolhardy but handsome blogger opined that if Woods won this year’s Masters, Tiger – and I quote – “won’t need any more major titles to supplant Jack Nicklaus as golf’s greatest player.”

Poor Masters Week for Tiger

In my book, Woods remains one more major and a dozen or so regular tour victories from eclipsing Nicklaus. But here’s the catch: Woods looked positively awful at Augusta. His exquisite short game was the only thing standing between Tiger and a Friday trunk-slamming.

My take is that Tiger’s new, Sean Foley-engineered swing was rooted just deeply enough to survive the pressure of a Bay Hill, but came unraveled under Masters-level stress. The sequence isn’t completely ingrained in Woods’ muscle memory – remember, he’s got at least two other swings vying for attention – requiring that he think, when he should be just playing.

Maybe Tiger could learn a thing or two from the new Masters champ.

Daniel MitchellDaniel Mitchell is a golf writer who lives in Jupiter, Fla., a few miles from Tiger Woods as the crow flies but worlds away in every other respect. An avid golfer since age 12, Mitchell carries a (shaky) single-digit handicap, investing far more time in his dogs than his swing.

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