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Masters mystery: What has happened to Bubba Watson?


Bubba Watson missed two-foot putts. Bubba Watson missed three-foot putts. Also five-foot putts and eight-foot putts. It appeared there were some greens that Watson grew so emotionally attached to that he didn’t want to leave them. On those four he three-putted, one short of officially establishing residency.

Golf is a really hard sport. Bubba Watson felt the need to remind me of this Friday when asked why, in so many words, he stunk again at Augusta National.

If there ever was a time when I was tempted to challenge a two-time Masters’ champion to a throw-down on the Giraffe Course at Mountasia, this was it, because Watson’s putting GPS and sense of direction paralleled that of a blindfolded 6-year-old after being spun around in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.

The Masters continues Saturday, but without Watson. He followed his opening-round 2 over with an eight-bogey 6 over par Friday to finish with an inflated two-day score of 8-over 152, two strokes south the cut line.

Watson finished his 36 holes with 13 bogeys and only five birdies. Masters’ green — good. Scoreboard green — bad. Every golfer has struggled with the wind at some point this week. But Watson’s problems have mostly centered on shots when the ball never became airborne:

He putted 62 times, which ranked tied 58th in the field of 93.

He had 13 putts in the five-to-10-foot range and made only five, a percentage of 38.5 that ranked tied for 78th.

Remember Bubba Watson? He won green jackets in 2012 and 2014. The former Georgia golfer inspired so much barking in the gallery those years, it sounded and felt like a Georgia-Auburn game. Between the Azaleas.

But it was quiet again Friday, save the murmurs.

What happened to this guy?

“It’s not physical,” Watson said. “I’ve got no injuries. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Pause.

“Golf is tough. I don’t know if you’ve ever played it. But writing articles is easy. Golf is the hard part.”

Shots fired.

Hey, I wouldn’t dare compare the difficulty of writing a column vs. playing golf. I just never realized playing golf for a living slides in somewhere between astrophysics and linear algebra. But, hey, I do have spell check and the occasional editor, so that is a help.

Watson must’ve felt the backlash on social media after our exchange because he felt compelled to post a video statement on Twitter. He said in part, “What I was saying to the reporter is, golf is hard, so if he tried to play golf it would be very tough. Writing an article is a lot easier for him than it is for me. It was a joke. I love all journalists.”

“I love all journalists.” I’m just going to let that go.

Back to Watson: He’s a mess. Not a physical mess. He’s slimmer than ever, down more than 15 pounds from his original Ping-swinging weight of 190. Truth is, he looks far too skinny to be a Bubba now. But he’s not nearly the same golfer who blazed Augusta National to Masters wins in 2012 and 2014.

Let’s start with his past two Masters: He barely made the cut in 2016 and finished 9 over. He has shot over par in five of his past six rounds (for a cumulative 17 over) and seven of his past eight (for a cumulative 20 over), since the weekend of 2015.

The overall picture also suggests something is seriously wrong in Bubbaville. He has yet to win this season in nine Tour events, with two cuts and a withdrawal (wrist injury). His spiral began just before the Masters a year ago. He had two tournament wins and a runner-up in the season’s first six events, but went the rest of the season without a victory and only one top-10 finish in 13 events. In his past five majors he has finished 37th (Masters), 51st (U.S. Open), 39th (British), 60th (PGA) and missed cut (Masters).

Some thought Watson was loony when he switched to a pink ball for, we can only assume, the sake of a lucrative endorsement deal with Volvik. (Go to the company’s website and you’ll find Watson featured prominently, as well as pictures of balls that come in more colors than a bag of Skittles.) But a guy doesn’t three-putt four holes in two days because he’s hitting a pink ball. He three-putts four holes in two days because there’s something wrong between the ears.

“He struggled early, and he kind of put himself in a hole,” said Jimmy Walker, his playing partner Thursday and Friday. “He was trying to dig out, and this is a tough course to try to dig yourself out of a hole.”

Watson started and ended his round Friday with bogeys. He was a manageable 2 over to start the day, but immediately blew up with bogeys on five of the first six holes. Most of the problems didn’t come off the tee or in the fairways. An exception was the second hole, when his tee shot landed in the hazard of a pine grove between the No. 2 and No. 8 fairways, forcing him to take a penalty stroke. He had a chance to save par, but had a five-footer lip out.

He visited both ends of the emotional spectrum on No. 9. His second shot from 106 yards hit the flag stick, but bounced back and rolled off the green and down an embankment. However, just when electroshock therapy seemed like a good idea, he chipped in from 75 feet for birdie.

But that was it for the highlights.

“There’s no luck or changing, it’s just golf,” Watson said. “I stroked it well. It’s just little things. It’s gusty winds. Hopefully I’ll come back next year and guess right, and there’ll be no gusty wind.”

Watson and Walker were expected to be grouped with Dustin Johnson on Thursday and Friday, but when Johnson withdrew because of a back injury that meant the two were going to have to do a lot of standing around between holes.

To his credit, Watson didn’t try to use that as excuse. He just couldn’t read the speed of the greens. As he said, golf is difficult. Just watch him.

Listen: The AJC’s Jeff Schultz and Steve Hummer and WSB’s Jay Black discuss the second round:



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