Back to being Bubba: Watson leads Masters at midpoint

Back to being Bubba: Watson leads Masters at midpoint

April 12th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - Golf

Bubba Watson walks down the 14th fairway during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 11, 2014, in Augusta, Ga.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Winning the 2012 Masters gave Bubba Watson a hangover - not like downing a pint of rot-gut whiskey but a time-draining exhausting feeling for the entire 2013 season.

Missing out on the Presidents Cup and finishing outside the top 30 on the FedEx Cup points list was when he felt the worst.

Watson is feeling better this season, putting better and leading at the midway point of the Masters by one stroke over John Senden.

"What I'm trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing," Watson said. "I've said this whole year is about rejoicing and thinking about being a kid. As a kid, you don't think about the bad days, you always think about the great days."

Friday qualifies as one of those good days. It could have been incredible if not for a final-hole bogey.

The long-bombing left-hander birdied five straight holes, starting with a 9-iron tee shot into the par-3 No. 12 that settled two feet from the hole and ending with another 9-iron into the par-3 16th that stopped about three feet from the cup.

"Every guy in the field has had that stretch before, playing with their buddies or playing in a tournament, so it's not that big of a deal when we think about it," Watson said. "But at the Masters, that makes it a big deal."

Nevertheless, he'll head into the third round with a one-shot lead over Senden, a 42-year-old Australian who matched Watson's 4-under-par 68 Friday.

Senden shot even in the opening round, then fell to 2 over through four holes Friday. But he birded six of the his next 11, including only one of five birdies all day at No. 11.

"I'm excited to keep doing what I've been doing -- playing good golf," Senden said. "And if I keep believing in myself and enjoying it -- that's the difference when you're under the pressure, if you can keep a smile on your face.

"There's plenty of ups and downs on this golf course."

Defending champion Adam Scott experienced those highs and lows during his Friday 72 that leaves him in a tie for third with 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth and Scandinavian golfers Thomas Bjorn and Jonas Blixt.

Scott made three bogeys on the first nine, which dropped him to even-par, but he rallied with birdies on 12, 13 and 15.

"There's no way guys were playing flawless tee to green, it was so difficult," said Scott, who scrambled for par from the trees on No. 18. "It wasn't exactly what I was looking for today, but given everything, I'm absolutely satisfied with [72]. It just means tomorrow's round is extremely important for me.

"It's going to have to be maybe the best round of the week."

Scott and Spieth will be together and begin their round at 2:25 after the youngster shot a 2-under 70, including one of four eagles on No. 15 and one of 22 birdies on No. 18.

"This was a big goal of mine this year was to get in contention at a major, and the Masters being the one that I dreamt about since I was who knows how old," Spieth said. "Right now we're 36 holes in, so I think I'm still far from contention. I think contention is back nine Sunday.

"But I'm in a position to put myself into that contention and see what I can do."

Watson already knows he can do it. After all, he beat Angel Cabrera in a playoff two years ago.

Then he developed his hangover from success. Watson's 2014 season already has been more fruitful than all of 2013, even though the first major of the year is only half completed. He has a win and already has earned about $1.2 million more than all of last season.

It's due in part to improved putting, better time management -- in his golf and with his young family, including 2-year-old adopted son Caleb -- and by returning to doing what he did in 2012.

That's being Bubba.

That's hitting it 320 yards off the tee, fading shots with his irons, holing incredible putts like he did on 14 and showing his emotion like he did on 18 when he screamed, "Mud ball!" in anger with his approach in the air.

"I do everything my way," Watson said. "I learned the game my way; I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today.

"This year started off a little bit better than last year."

As proof, Watson has five top-10 finishes this season in nine tournaments. The win was at the Northern Trust Open in February.

"At the same time I won the green jacket, I was becoming a dad," Watson said. "Learning to be a good dad, learning to be a better husband, it takes time on you. It takes energy. I had to learn how to refocus, re-practice, get back at the level I think I should be at -- you know, top 25 in the world."

He's ranked No. 12 on the golf course, but No. 1 at home when he's not competing.

"I think he's enjoying golf again," Watson's wife, Angie, said. "He's having fun. Whether he shoots 80 or 8 under, he's going to go home and play T-ball with Caleb."

He has more tee-ball to play this weekend as well.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.