AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson won the Masters two years ago with his brand of “Bubba golf,” producing shots of raw skill and wild imagination. His strategy now is to keep it simple, and he is halfway to another green jacket.
Watson took over Augusta National on Friday with 75 minutes of brilliance and power. On another demanding day of crispy greens and swirling wind, he ran off five straight birdies on the back nine and wound up with a 4-under 68 for a three-shot lead over John Senden.
There’s nothing fancy about his golf, except for his outrageous length. He has made only two bogeys in 36 holes. He has missed only eight greens.
“It’s not science here,” Watson said. “It’s try to hit the greens. And if you’re hitting the greens, that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that’s all I’m trying to do is just hit the greens … maybe throw in a birdie here or there. That’s what I’ve done the last two days and it’s worked out so far.”
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Watson made bogey on the 18th hole with a shot that bounced left of the green and into the gallery. He finished at 7-under 137, giving him the largest 36-hole lead at the Masters since Chad Campbell in 2006.
As usual, Fred Couples spent two rounds at the Masters contending with kids young enough to be … his kids.
On Friday, Couples shot his second 71 of the tournament to enter the weekend tied for sixth, while many supposed and younger contenders packed up after missing the cut.
“I say the same thing every year,” Couples said. “I feel great about playing here, I’m very excited about playing here, and then when you see me in the parking lot on Saturday night, I’m dejected every year.”
Couples, 54, is the only player who has been in the top 10 at the Masters after 36 holes each of the past five years. In his past five Masters appearances, he has been ninth, seventh, first, second and seventh entering the weekend.
Adam Scott also made a late recovery with three birdies on the back nine to salvage a 72, along with his hopes to join Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win back-to-back at Augusta. Scott was four shots back at 141, along with Thomas Bjorn (68), Jonas Blixt (71) and Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old from Texas who looked solid on the mystifying greens and shot a 70.
“Bubba is tearing it up,” Spieth said. “So we’ve got to go get him.”
Woods, who missed the Masters for the first time in 20 years because of back surgery, won’t be the only guy watching on television. Phil Mickelson made another triple bogey — three shots from the bunkers on the par-3 12th hole — for a 73 and missed the cut for the first time since 1997. So did Puyallup’s Ryan Moore, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson.
Couples was one of six players aged 50 or older who made the cut. It’s a tough course for most 50-somethings, because short hitters are at a marked disadvantage, and Augusta National’s hills tend to wear out the legs of older players.
The latter might affect Couples on the weekends, but the former doesn’t apply. Couples blasts the ball past younger playing partners with his long, laconic swing.
“Can I win it?” Couples said. “Yeah. That’s why I’m here.”
Luck occasionally comes into play, too, as if the Masters loves Couples as much as he loves the tournament. He’s won only one major title, the 1992 Masters, and he won in part because his tee shot to the par-3 12th hit the front bank and miraculously stayed dry.
Friday, Couples hit his tee shot at the 12th farther left than his famous shot in 1992, and this one also hit the shaved bank, rolled back … and stopped short of Rae’s Creek.
“Well, I will say I got very, very lucky,” Couples said.
Since 2011, Couples is a combined 18 under in the first two rounds of the Masters, and eight over on the weekend.
“I’m not here just to play golf and play golf and think that I can’t compete on this course,” Couples said. “I can’t compete with these guys over a year, but in one week I can compete, and I have to do it tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Watson seems further away from the field than just three shots.
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose was nine shots behind, but not ready to give up because the leader often comes back to the field — although he admitted that former champs are less likely to collapse.
“But there’s no give on this golf course,” Rose said. “The hole can start looking awfully small, and those lakes can start to look awfully big.”
The only thing that looked big to Watson was the size of the cup.
Even so, the Masters is just getting started.
The 36-hole leader goes on to win the Masters just over one-third of the time, and only two players — Mike Weir in 2003 and Trevor Immelman in 2008 — have done it since 2000.