Bubba Watson goes on a birdie binge

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- "Betcha it's a Swatch," said the Masters patron, who had a pair of plastic Masters beer cups stuffed into his back pocket, and a pair of binoculars hanging from his neck.

He was gesturing toward Bubba Watson, who stood about 25 yards away in the middle of Augusta National's 17th fairway Friday afternoon. By then, you could hear the murmuring through the crowds as Watson took the HOV lane to the top of the Masters leaderboard.

He had birdied five holes in a row and led the tournament by 4 shots. Patrons surged toward the 17th green and the 18th tee box as he approached. Tiger Woods who?

And no, Bubba wasn't wearing a Swatch, but an RM 38-01, G-sensor Bubba Watson model made by Swiss luxury watchmaker Richard Mille that goes for $500,000-plus. It's what all the lefties named Bubba are wearing.

Gerry Lester Watson has come a long way from Bagdad, Fla., where his mom worked two jobs and his dad worked construction to make ends meet. He's also come a long way from 2012, which is the year he won a green jacket and then disappeared into golf's black hole.

Friday's version of Bubba was part April 2012 -- the month and year he beat Louis Oosthuizen in a Masters playoff, thanks to a wedge shot from the gods -- and part April 2014, the month and year Watson is growing up as a golfer.

He shot a 4-under-par 68 Friday, which goes nicely with the 69 he shot on Thursday. That gives him the 36-hole lead, a 3-shot edge over John Senden, and affirmation that "The Secret" (which really isn't a secret anymore) is working.

"Just got to keep my head down -- same thing I've been doing the last two days, same thing I did earlier this year," said Watson. "Just keep my head down and not try to focus on the crowds cheering for me and stuff. Trying to stay level; not too energized, not too excited."

Watson doesn't do level very well. He's so up and down that EKGs don't even bother with him. Maybe that's why he didn't do so well after he won the Masters two years ago -- and then fell off a golf cliff.

Question at Friday's news conference: "Was there a lingering hangover after 2012 that carried over into last year?"

Bubba: "Well, no, I was still celebrating my green jacket. How many green jackets you got? If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two ... My year, my career was complete after that win."

Watson celebrated. Fretted. Was overwhelmed by the attention, the demands, the media requests and the pressures. His game didn't collapse, but it had some puncture marks.

"For me, I didn't know how to handle it the best way, and so I didn't play my best golf last year," said Watson. "This year I come in here with no media attention, just out there practicing ... So yeah, it was very different from last year to this year."

Watson won nearly $5 million on the PGA Tour in 2012, but less than half that in 2013. He wasn't clipping Sunday coupons, but he wasn't the same player.

Watson didn't make it to the Tour Championship and he wasn't named to the Presidents Cup team. The somebody was sort of a 2013 late-season nobody.

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