AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Bubba Watson was playing his way down the 10th fairway, trying to forget about the photographer who got in his way the hole before and quite possibly cost him the first bogey of his Masters.
Deep in the woods to the right, about 20 people gathered around an opening in the trees to relive Watson's famous shot from two years ago, seemingly oblivious to the fact the man who hit it was walking by just a few yards away.
"They really should put a plaque here," one said, trying to figure out just where Watson carved a shot around the trees to win his first green jacket in a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. The way Watson took command of the Masters on the back nine Friday that might not be enough. If he keeps overpowering Augusta National this way, they may have to give him a monument someday.
Drives that go so far there are no trees to stop them. Nine-irons that fly 186 yards. And five straight birdies through a wind that did more than just whisper through the Georgia pines. All by a lefthander with a funny swing, a pink driver, and a way of talking that makes it sound like he's in a hurry to get to the airport for the next flight to Atlanta.
"I've never had a swing coach, never had a lesson," Watson said. "So it's all slap cuts, I guess you could say, with my driver. They get out there pretty far, though." That's hardly a revelation for anyone who watched Watson win here two years ago when he went on a back nine birdie binge to tie Oosthuizen. He then hit it deep into the trees on No. 10 before bending a wedge shot almost 90 degrees onto the green for the winning birdie.
It was one of the most improbable shots ever, one that will live in Masters lore. But some thought the win was a fluke, especially when Watson went into a lengthy slump while trying to deal with the demands of being a Masters champion.
"How many green jackets you got?" he asked. "If you had one, you would celebrate it for a year or two." Watson said he spent far too much time dealing with sponsors and trying to juggle family life with the infant son he and his wife adopted just before the Masters win. He wasn't practicing well, and there were those thousands of yellow flags he had to sign.
By the time Watson won the Northern Trust Open earlier this year, he was wondering if he would ever win again. "You know, I do everything my way," he said. "I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today."
Where that was Friday was three shots ahead of John Senden as Watson wrapped up business early and headed back to his rental home. He's got two of them here, so he and his wife and son can stay in one while friends and relatives get the other.
He needs the quiet, needs to get away from everything that is the Masters. "Like yesterday, when I got done, I knew how good the round was, so no TV was turned on," Watson said. "I didn't want to hear anything. I just want to play my golf, and that's what I've been doing over the last year and a half since I won."
That might be even harder to do should the game plan he brought here this week end up succeeding. He wants to keep it as simple as possible, hitting fairways and greens and letting everything else take care of itself.
It didn't work on the ninth hole, where Watson stopped in mid-swing when a photographer moved in front of him. But the run he then made on the back nine showed that being his own psychologist may be working.
"What I'm trying to do is go back to being a kid again and just rejoicing," Watson said. "As a kid, you don't think about the bad days. You always think about the great days. So playing here at Augusta, there's a lot of people that wished they could play this tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this tournament more than once."
Even better for Watson is that he's 36 holes away from winning it more than once.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg