Unlikely golfers elevate excitement of sport without help of big names


The Associated Press

Bubba Watson strikes a shot from the bunker. Watson won the Masters in the a thrilling playoff against Louis Oosthuizen for his first Major championship.

Sameer Bhuchar

He’s had his shot to wow me, but after yesterday’s exciting finish at the Masters, I’ll just admit it: Yes, golf is exciting without Tiger Woods, and no one proved that more than the top two performers Sunday afternoon.

Champion Bubba Watson and runner-up Louis Oosthuizen were never meant to wear a green jacket this year. Woods, who was coming off a huge win at Bay Hill, and Rory McIlroy were the talk of the town coming into the event but puttered out early. They both finished five over par.

Familiar faces like Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson had their moments, but the former Masters champions couldn’t keep pace with the youth.

Not Vijay Singh, not Padraig Harrington, not Angel Cabrera. No established golfer had a shot against the creativity and courage of Watson and Oosthuizen who played one of the most dramatic sudden-death playoffs at the Masters in
recent history.

Each had their opportunity to put the other away on the first hole of the playoff, the 18th. Oosthuizen, who at 29-years-old could’ve been one of very few golfers to win the British Open and the Masters, saw his ball hug the outside edge of the cup, only to then travel a few inches past it. It was an otherwise flawlessly calculated putt, but the golf gods simply wouldn’t allow it to drop without heightening the drama. The pair both took par on the hole which set up the grand finale on the 10th.

From the 10th tee, Watson sent a dinger into the deep pine needles and Oosthuizen fell into the rough but had a much easier route to the hole than Watson, and the playoff looked all but over. It was going to be predictable.

But then, as Watson had done all Sunday, he crafted a creative shot that got me out of my seat. It wowed me, let alone the rest of the golf world. The lefty hooked a shot, at what felt like at 90 degree angle, around towering Augusta pines and landed on the green. Oosthuizen finished with a bogey, and Watson sunk par before bawling into his family’s arms.

As someone who watches golf frequently but only really to see how Woods will fare, I can’t remember watching a more exciting event since Woods won the U.S. Open on one good leg. Whether he wins or loses, the story about the event always ends up centered on him. Is Tiger back? Will he ever win? Can he repeat?

After Sunday, it was apparent that the golf narrative will no longer be solely about Woods as it has been for the past decade. The lore of Oosthuizen and Watson and other great up-and-coming golfers who have lived in Woods’ umbrage are coming out from the shadows. Their legends will build and we will remember these emotions just as we did when Woods wowed us for so many years prior. People will remember Oosthuizen’s double-eagle, the rarest of birds. Or they’ll talk about Watson’s mental fortitude to pull out a victory knowing his wife and newborn son were at home.

So it is time. I’m hanging up my Tiger-centric hat, and I know a few of you who wear one that can do the same. I understand that he made the game electrifying for me and many other fans by achieving a level of dominance the sport had seldom seen. But now it’s time we marvel in the excitement that others are creating and wait for the next golf great to emerge.

Printed on Monday, April 9, 2012 as: Watson wins Masters with spectacular finish