Bubba Watson goes on a birdie binge


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.

"When [the Presidents Cup] was going on and I wasn't there, all those things hit you," Watson said. "You're thinking you have the ability to do this. You have the ability to perform at a high level, you've done it before. You know, are you going to dedicate yourself? Are you going to practice?"

Old Bubba, by his own count, has signed 10,000-plus yellow pin flags from his Masters win. If his sponsors had a hoop, he jumped through it. He did more talking than the crew on "The View." And his game suffered -- a lot.

New Bubba doesn't read the newspapers or the Internet, and he doesn't watch any TV golf highlights during tournament week. Last year the entire Bubba contingent stayed in one Augusta rental house. This year it's family in one house, everybody else in another.

He tweaked his putter (a half-inch longer). He tweaked his Masters practice routine (only nine holes a day). He came up with The Secret, which he proceeded to divulge two days in a row (hit greens in regulation).

"It's not science here," he said. "... And if you're hitting the greens, that means you're obviously hitting your tee shots well."

Simple. Everything has been simple for Watson this week. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the field needs a sedative. Look at the leaderboard; with the exception of defending champion Adam Scott, former U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk and former champion Fred Couples, it's suffering from big-name deprivation.

Watson helps. The patrons love him. The camera loves him. The galleries were seven, eight deep by the 18th tee box.

"All right, I get to see this swing," said a man pressed hard against the green-and-white rope on the 18th tee box. "I haven't seen it yet."

He saw it a few moments later, when Watson lasered a 3-wood through the Augusta afternoon wind.

The man near the ropes just shook his head in amazement. And Watson's two-day total elicited similar reactions from his peers.

"Phenomenal," said Jason Day of Watson's 4-under 68. "Then again, we have 36 holes left. Anything can happen, especially at Augusta."

Anything, except Bubba wearing a Swatch.