AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Bubba Watson had a hard time dealing with his success after winning the Masters in 2012, but the left-hander looked ready to give major success another try armed with the 36-hole lead at Augusta National.
Watson used a blistering run of five successive birdies to post a four-under-par 68 and seize the lead at seven-under 137 after Friday’s second round of the year’s opening major.
The 35-year-old Floridian knows he has it in him to win.
Watson beat South African Louis Oosthuizen on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff two years ago with one of major golf’s greatest recovery shots, a daring 90-degree escape from deep within the pines on his way to a clinching par at the 10th.
Blessed with extraordinary shot-making skills, Watson looked poised to pile on more titles, but instead suffered through a 22-month victory drought.
Watson said at first he was consumed by the sheer exaltation of winning the Masters for his first major title.
“I was still celebrating my green jacket,” he said about the rest of the 2012 season.
“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,” said Watson.
“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. Never been drunk before, but a hangover from the green jacket.”
After that he found himself overwhelmed by demands.
“It drains you a lot more than you know,” he said. “Every sponsor that you have, every company you represent, they want a piece of your time, they want more of your time.”
Time grew more dear to him since he had just adopted his first child the week before the Masters.
“At the same time, when I won the green jacket, I was becoming a dad,” noted Watson. “Learning to be a good dad, learning to be a better husband, it takes time on you. It takes energy.”
Watson worked hard on finding the right balance between his golf and his family life and it has all started to click.
The left-hander ended his victory drought by winning the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in February for his fifth career PGA Tour title during a stretch of six top 10s from seven events that included a pair of runner-up finishes.
He has carried the form on to Augusta.
After shooting a bogey-free, three-under-par opening 69, Watson ran his flawless stretch to 26 holes before a bogey at the ninth where his approach bounced through the green and he failed to get up and down.
Watson made amends on the back nine with a sizzling streak that started with a dart of a tee shot that gave him a two foot putt for birdie.
He caught a break at the par-five 13th when his tee shot clipped the top of a tree along the right side and dropped safely on the edge of the fairway. He fired his approach to about 12 feet and two-putted for another birdie.
At 14 he sank a 35-foot, right-to-left curling downhill putt, crediting playing partner Sergio Garcia for showing him the line with a chip shot right over his ball marker, for a sensational birdie that sent a huge roar through the pines.
He chipped to four feet and sank the birdie putt at the par-five 15th, and holed a five-foot birdie at the par-three 16th to cap his dazzling run.
A bogey at the last brought him back to seven-under-par 137, but Watson is determined not to let anything get him down.
“Hopefully, I‘m back here tomorrow afternoon,” he said about being invited to the interview room, embracing the prospects of more major championship success.
“I’ve won golf tournaments. I’ve been lucky enough to win here. Just got to keep my head down, same thing I’ve been doing the last two days, same thing I did earlier this year.”
“What I‘m trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing.”
Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry