Masters Marches On, In Tandem With Prodigy

This is what the Masters needed like an azalea begs for a sprinkler head, a 20-year-old prodigy who sees Tiger Woods as a geezer, thinks video games are so last decade and will refer to Bubba Watson — who looks and acts like a kid — as “Mr. Watson’’ on championship Sunday “just because it will mess with him.’’

Jordan Spieth may not win the tournament, may not become the youngest winner of a green jacket since Woods in 1997 and youngest winner of a major championship since 1931. But his emergence atop the green leaderboard, with Watson, reminds us that golf eventually will separate itself from the thunder, fury and scandal of the Tiger Era and embrace new stars and stories. It wasn’t long ago when Spieth would fantasize in the front yard of his parents’ home in Dallas, where he would say to his brother, “This putt is to win the Masters.’’ Now, after seeing Augusta National for the first time in October, he’s trying to conquer the place.

“I’m 20 and this is the Masters,’’ Spieth said, “and this is a tournament I’ve always dreamt about.’’

Living the dream is what Woods did for a long damned time, making Augusta part of an unprecedented golfing romp that produced 13 major titles in 12 years. Other than one Tweet at 5:43 a.m Pacific time Thursday — “It never gets old watching the honorary starters tee off. One of the oldest and best traditions in the game,’’ he wrote — there is no evidence he is watching the weekend’s developments on television. How could he? Isn’t he in convulsions after spending his last 20 Aprils in Georgia, helping the Masters define him while he helped re-define a sport? Sure, Spieth could win and become an American darling. Or Bubba could win for the second time in three years and buy chicken burritos, his dinner selection every night this weekend, for all the patrons. If you wonder where Watson has been after his emotional Masters victory in 2012, he was dealing with the pressures of his triumph while still trying to soak in the euphoria.

“You’ve got to think about where I’ve come from, my mom having two jobs to pay for my golf, my dad working in construction,” Watson told the media. “And when you think about that and where I am in my career and where I am in my family, my young family, you’re thinking about how great this was. Besides the Lord, marrying my wife and having our child, it’s right there, it’s fourth or fifth on the list. So when you think about that, it’s an accomplishment for a guy named Bubba, with my mom, my upbringing. My year, my career, was complete after that win.”

But the experience also drained him. “As soon as you win, you get a green jacket on you. Every sponsor that you have, every company you represent, they want a piece of your time, they want more of your time,’’ he said. “And yellow (Masters) flags? I’ve seen enough of those. I really don’t want to sign too many more of those yellow flags. I think I’ve signed every single one since 2012.

“Media attention is on the defending champion. You’re asked all these questions: ‘Can you defend? How are you going to play? How are you going to do this?’ You have to give up the green jacket. So there’s a lot of things going on, media attention, when you’re defending champion. I didn’t know how to handle it the best way, and so I didn’t play my best golf last year.”

Though he squandered a sizable lead with the microscope back on him, Watson is positioned to win. So is Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was 29 when Spieth was born, meaning he’d be the oldest Masters champion at 50. Matt Kuchar, one of the best players never to win a major, is right there. So is Ricky Fowler, he of the crazy colors and shaggy hair, and Jonas Blixt, whoever he is. You have heard of Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn, all in contention. Missing in action are Phil Mickelson, who didn’t make the cut; defending champ Adam Scott, who started well and has stumbled since; and Rory McIlroy, who was outplayed by an Augusta National member named Jeff Knox, who served as a non-competing marker who was filling out the field after the Friday cut left an odd number.

“He obviously knows this place so well and gets it around,” McIlroy said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone putt the greens as well as he does around here.’’

I have. His name is Tiger Woods. But for now, anyway, the Masters has survived without him. Jordan Spieth has commanded the world’s attention, and like the rest of us, Tiger will sit back and watch.

Maybe the geezer will even Tweet out props to the kid, realizing that golf, like life, does march on.

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