“Is that Bubba?” one patron asks another.
“Yep. He hit it three and a half feet to the pin,” the other responds.
“Sweet Jesus,” she replies with a hearty grin.
Bubba Watson is playing golf like a pitcher throwing a perfect game. He’s gripping his 9-iron between his teeth, having just narrowly missed an ace on the par 3 16th hole at the Masters.
An enormous sea of colorful specs on the Augusta hillside erupt in jubilation.
This is now a party, and a guy named Bubba just delivered as the headliner.
He has to settle for an easy-enough birdie. For the 2012 Masters Champion, it’s his fifth birdie in a row. He’s four shots clear of the field on Friday afternoon.
The gallery following Bubba looks similar to ones of previous years — cargo shorts are more than plentiful, and the plastic cups stack just a little taller than on other parts of the course.
But Bubba is focused. After whizzing a tee shot that sounds like a high-speed sprinkler head flying through the thick
Georgia air, Bubba drops his eyes behind the brim of his hat and walks stoically down the 17th fairway, rarely acknowledging the fandom belting his praises.
“I’ve just tried to keep my head down, not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff,” Watson said after Friday’s round of 68. “I’m trying to stay level, not too energized, not too excited.”
From the same guy who cried in the Masters media room before the 2013 Masters when talking about his green jacket win, “staying level” seems like a good idea.
“I was still celebrating my green jacket,” Watson said Friday, referring to the 2013 season. “You’ve got to think about where I’ve come from, my mom having two jobs to pay for my golf, my dad working construction ... it’s an accomplishment for a guy named Bubba. My year, my career was complete after that win.”
For Bubba to win this year, the focus and consistency that’s sometimes slipped in the past must remain for the weekend. On Sunday of last year’s Masters, Bubba carded a 10, including three balls in the water, on the par 3 12th.
Now, he’s coming off of his first back-to-back rounds in the 60s of his 22-round Masters career.
“After my round, I don’t watch anything. I don’t want to read anything about me. I just want to focus on my family, and my golf a little bit,” Watson said.
Being the life of the party that follows him will have to wait.
Vince Johnson is covering The Masters for Morris Multimedia for the sixth year – or the 36th day. You can follow his coverage on Twitter @vincejohnson.