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Brilliant Bubba slays Oosthuizen to win Masters

Alex Dimond April 8, 2012 « Jol unsure over Dempsey's Fulham future | Chartbeat test »

Bubba Watson claimed the maiden major title of his career at The Masters on Sunday, after defeating Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of a sudden death playoff.

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Former Open champion Oosthuizen, propelled by an albatross - the fourth in Masters history - at the par-five second, led for much of the afternoon, before the big-hitting Watson hauled him in over the closing stages of the back nine at Augusta National to ensure they ended level atop the leaderboard at the conclusion of the round.

After both men made pars at the 18th in the first hole of the playoff - Watson passing up a second opportunity to win it all - the duo headed for the 10th, where a magical iron shot from deep in the trees gave the 33-year-old a birdie chance.

When Oosthuizen could only make a bogey after leaving his approach putt short of the green, Watson kept his composure and took the two putts he had to claim the first major of his career.

He previously lost in a playoff at the 2010 US PGA Championship.

"I never got this far, even in my dreams," a tearful Watson said at the presentation ceremony afterwards. "I don't really remember the playoff. This is really special."

Playing together and on the same score coming up the last in regulation, both players missed chances for birdie - with Watson tapping in for his par - and a round of 68 - to leave Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, a nervy six-footer to continue the tournament. The South African held his nerve, however, rolling it in for a 69 to ensure the tournament went beyond the standard 72 holes.

Phil Mickelson, the favourite going into the final round, saw his challenge die at the fourth - where a triple-bogey six (after his ball ricocheted away off a grandstand) left him with simply too much work to do over the remaining holes.

In the playoff, Watson teed off first and smashed his pink driver down the middle to apply some pressure, but Oosthuizen responded positively with a safe shot. Both subsequently found the green, with Watson sliding his chance to win just wide after his opponent had been forced to settle for par.

That sent them to a second sudden death hole at the tenth, where neither found the fairway as they ballooned drives well right. It was Oosthuizen who got lucky, however, as his shot flew into the gallery and stayed safely in the second cut. Watson, in contrast, ended up in the pinestraw with his view of the green obscured by trees.

That proved no obstacle to the man from Bagdad, Florida, however - as he saw Oosthuizen leave his shot short of the green before hooking a huge wedge shot around the trees and to within 15 feet of the pin.

And, after Oosthuizen's clunky chip left him with too much work to do to save par, Watson rolled his birdie putt inches past the hole and then tapped in to secure a victory that immediately sent him into floods of tears.

Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar and Peter Hanson all finished in a share of third position.

Playing together in the penultimate group of the tournament, Oosthuizen started with a one-shot lead that grew to two after Watson made a sloppy bogey at the first. At the second, however, the South African pulled off a rare feat to move well clear of his playing partner.

With 253 yards to go from the middle of the fairway, he striped a four-iron that carried onto the front of the green and then rolled around the contours of the surface towards the right-hand pin position - dropping in for an albatross. It was just the fourth in Masters history, and the first at that hole.

Watson followed him in with a tidy birdie, but that nevertheless opened up the gap to four shots - with Oosthuizen enjoying the lead over the field as Mickelson struggled behind him. A dropped shot at the third (and a birdie for Watson at the fifth) then halved the deficit, before Oosthuizen's putting saved him from further leakage - a par putt from the fringe at six proving particularly important.

After failing to make birdie at the par-five eighth the duo reached the turn separated by two shots, a margin that was reduced further when Oosthuizen slipped up at the difficult tenth - a hole Watson nearly birdied after his booming drive rocketed down a path to the right of the fairway.

The next change in momentum saw Oosthuizen gain some breathing space, however, as the first sign of nerves started to show with Watson as he three-putted from the back of the 12th green.

Both players birdied the par-five 13th - Watson with an impressive six-footer, Oosthuizen by cleaning up after nearly chipping in for eagle - before Watson rolled in another at the next. The 15th saw both grab birdies once again, before Watson made the most of a spectacular tee shot at the 16th to finally bring himself on level terms.

With two holes to play and the green jacket on the line, both players perhaps understandably lost their rhythm on the 17th tee - Watson slicing left, Oosthuizen sending it right. Both players made par, however, with the left-hander even taking a run at birdie after a magical high escape over the trees. It was to be a precursor of things to come.

At the last they both recovered their driving technique and created 20-foot birdie opportunities, with Oosthuizen giving Watson a chance to seal victory after running his birdie attempt six feet by. Watson missed, however, with the South African showing nerves of steel to hole out and set up the decisive playoff.

"That was my first double eagle ever, and to do it in a spot like Augusta, that's special," Oosthuizen said. "I felt it was tough over the next four or five holes, but then when we turned I felt very relaxed. I made a few great saves. I probably did very well to get in the playoff."

Louis Oosthuizen's historic albatross at the second did not secure victory for him © Getty Images
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Elsewhere, It was another near-miss for Lee Westwood, as he ended up in a share of third despite a valiant late surge.

Starting the day a full five shots off the leader, the Englishman made a fine start with a birdie at the second but gave the shot straight back at the short fourth. Another mistake at the par-five eighth, moments after picking up a birdie at the seventh, saw him make the turn in level par - before he really began to turn it on during the back nine.

He steered his way through Amen Corner before picking up a shot at the 13th, and then fired a crisp iron approach into the 15th to leave himself a ten-footer for eagle. As so often this week, however, his putting let him down - Westwood missing his chance to make a late run, with a final birdie at the 18th after shaving the cup at both the 16th and 17th.

Phil Mickelson followed Westwood in at the same score after a round of 72, missing out on a fourth green jacket thanks primarily to his meltdown at the fourth, where a wild tee shot was punished with a horrible bounce off the grandstand that left him in the bushes.

A first attempt to chip out right-handed failed, while a second only succeed in moving the ball a few yards. From a difficult lie he then pitched into the bunker, from where he got up-and-down for an ugly six.

The four-time major champion had a chance to make his way into the playoff coming up the 18th, but was unable to hole his second shot for the eagle he required.

Clearly shell-shocked by his error at the fourth - no player has ever won the Masters having made one triple-bogey during the tournament, let alone two (Mickelson also made one on Thursday) - Mickelson fought back valiantly but could not find the putts he needed until it was too late.

A birdie at the eighth got him back on an even keel, but he saw the distant eagle putts he needed at both 13 and 15 miss the target. That left him needing to make up two shots in the final three holes, but all his birdie attempts were too far out to be considered realistic chances, as he was forced to settle for a disappointing share of third.

Westwood, Mickelson and Peter Hanson joined the mark set by Matt Kuchar, who looked to have given himself a great chance at claiming a maiden major title after making an eagle at the 15th to briefly share the lead at nine-under.

It was a majestic approach from the American, as he fired a long-iron in to barely three feet from all of 230 yards to join Oosthuizen in the lead. But a nervous swing at the next resulted in a bogey, and the former US Amateur champion was unable to recover from that over the final two holes as he concluded at eight-under after a round of 69.

Kuchar also had birdies at three, seven, 12 and 13 - but will perhaps rue the double-bogey at the ninth - after missing the fairway and green with untidy strikes - that gave him too much to do over the back nine.

Phil Mickelson's challenge faded at the fourth © Getty Images
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Overnight leader Peter Hanson finished at eight-under thanks to a birdie at the last in a round of 73. The Swede started nervously - bogeying the first after a heavy chip - but seemed settled by Mickelson's struggles at the fourth, as he reeled off eight pars in a row following another dropped shot at the third.

His challenge really died at the 12th, however, as a nervy swing saw him shank the ball short and left of the par-three green. From there he failed to get up and down, a mistake that briefly left him four shots off the leader.

A birdie at the 15th put him back on the fringes of the action, before a pinpoint approach at the 16th threatened to drag him back into contention. But an improbable comeback would not be forthcoming, the Swede missing the five-footer for birdie as he finished with a flourish at the last to salvage a respectable finish on a difficult afternoon.

Englishman Ian Poulter looked to be in contention for much of the day, shooting up the leaderboard thanks to birdies at the third, sixth and ninth during an error-free front nine. But he just could not find the birdies he needed over the closing stages to reel in the leaders, with a birdie at the 15th his only joy as he missed makeable attempts at 13, 16 and 17 - with a three-putt bogey at the last an extra bitter way to end his tournament in seventh at five-under.

Adam Scott and Justin Rose set the early target at four-under, with the Australian making the second hole-in-one of the day at the 16th on his way to a round of 66 that also included a chip-in for birdie at the 17th. Rose's round of 68 was less spectacular, as he sparked into life over the final six holes (with two birdies and an eagle) to cement his place inside the top ten.

They were later joined by Padraig Harrington, another player who found himself well in the mix as the back nine began but failed to turn on the accelerator when it was required most. Six-under on the 17th tee having begun the day four-under, a double-bogey at the last was not the finish the three-time major champion desired as he ended up with a final round 72.

Jim Furyk finished on his own in 11th at three-under, with Graeme McDowell, Kevin Na, Fred Couples and Sergio Garcia all entrenched at two-under - earning themselves guaranteed invites for next year's tournament.

The top 16 and ties automatically receive such a reward, with Bo Van Pelt the unlucky player to narrowly miss out. It was harsh on the American, as he kicked off an exciting afternoon's play with the low round of the tournament - a 64 that included a hole-in-one at the 16th and eagle at the 13th. Ben Crane suffered his pain on the same score.

After playing themselves out of contention over the opening three days, the big-name trio of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods all finished well down the pack. Donald, thanks to a round of 68, ended up the best of the trio at three-over - with McIlroy and Woods both ending five-over after closing rounds of 76 and 74 respectively.

American Patrick Cantlay shot a round of 72 to take the Silver Cup for lowest amateur at seven-over - one ahead of defending champion Charl Schwartzel, who ended his reign with a subdued 74.

But the day belonged to Watson, who joined an illustrious list of names to win the famous tournament at Augusta National.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk