AUGUSTA, Ga. — Felt good off the club face. Looked good the whole way.
Bubba Watson stood on the 16th tee at the Masters on Friday, eyes wide and zeroed in. His 9-iron at the 170-yard par-3 was tracking for the flag, then curled toward a possible ace.
Watson thought it had a chance, so enthralled by the shot’s path that he raised his club to his mouth and bit down.
The ball settled 4 feet from the hole. So Watson settled for sinking an effortless birdie putt. Ho-hum.
That was the final highlight in Bubba’s birdie binge, a five-hole surge that took him from 3 under par to 8 under and gave him a firm grip on the 36-hole lead.
Watson went to bed with a three-shot advantage at 7 under on John Senden and a four-shot cushion over a quartet that included defending champ Adam Scott. More importantly, he heads into today’s third round (3 p.m., Ch. 4) for the weekend with an understanding that his game is in shape to continue dominating.
“It’s not science here,” Watson explained. “It’s try to hit the greens, and if you’re hitting the greens, that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well.”
After two days, Watson has only two bogeys. He has hit 28 of 36 greens in regulation (second-best in the field) and 20 of 28 fairways.
His back-nine blitz Friday produced birdies in every way. The near-ace on No. 16 book-ended another 9-iron, tap-in 2 at the 155-yard 12th. Sandwiched in the middle were aggressive attacks on two par-5s plus a U-shaped, 50-foot birdie putt on No. 14, a line he discovered after playing partner Sergio Garcia hit a chip directly over his coin.
During Watson’s surge, fans magnetized toward a magic show Garcia and Luke Donald had been witnessing for two days.
“It wasn’t just that back nine,” Garcia said. “He played great through the first two days. He drove the ball really, really well. His iron play has been extremely good. Everything was impressive. Then that streak just happened.”
For the first time since 1994, the Masters is proceeding without Tiger Woods. And now Phil Mickelson, the second most recognizable star on tour, won’t make it to the weekend. Mickelson’s second-round 73 left him at 5 over and a shot outside the cut line, just the second time in 22 Masters appearances he was out of action by Saturday.
But the potential for great weekend theater remains, particularly with several big names in the hunt. Scott climbed back into contention with a back-nine 33 Friday. Jim Furyk made a late afternoon surge into the top 10 at 2 under. And 54-year-old Fred Couples is tied with Furyk and two others after posting 71s the first two days, a perennial crowd favorite adding to his bandwagon.
“None of us can stop Bubba,” Couples said. “If he goes out and he does what he did” Thursday and Friday, “he’s the guy to beat.
“But I’m not here just to play golf and to think that I can’t compete on this course. I can’t compete with these guys over a year. But on one week, I can compete.”
Watson is similarly self-assured and back in a groove after a 2013 slump in which he never won, recorded only three top-10 finishes in 21 events and finished 38th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The time demands of being the 2012 Masters champion, Watson admitted, took a toll. Learning to manage family life also required focus after he and his wife, Angie, adopted their son, Caleb, shortly before the 2012 Masters.
But now Watson has everything lining up, his peace of mind and confidence calibrated at an ideal time.
“What I’m trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing,” he said.