AUGUSTA, Ga. — Instead of leaving with the green jacket, Louis Oosthuizen will have to settle for an albatross.
Outdone in a playoff by perhaps the only shot more spectacular than his double eagle, Oosthuizen came up short to Bubba Watson at the Masters on Sunday night. Unable to see the flag, Watson managed to hook a wedge off the pine needles to 10 feet while the South African couldn’t get up and down from in front of the green.
"It’s fine," Oosthuizen said. "He hit an unbelievable shot there. I played well. This is not one where I felt like I played badly. Great stuff to him, he deserves it."
Though Oosthuizen had already won a major, he would not have been anyone’s pick at the beginning of the week. His only victories since the 2010 British Open are the last two African Opens, and being a quiet, modest man who is happy on his farm, he tends to get overlooked in a sport where Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Phil Mickelson rock-star status.
But Oosthuizen has perhaps the purest swing in the game, and he is nearly impossible to fluster. When he won the claret jug at St. Andrews, he took a four-shot lead into the final round and practically breezed to the finish.
So while everyone else was measuring Phil Mickelson for his fourth green jacket, defending champion Charl Schwartzel said there was someone else who was worth watching.
"I think he’s playing the best out of everyone up there," Schwartzel said, referring to his friend and countryman, whom he’s known since their days of junior golf in South Africa. "He’s hot right now. When he’s playing like this, he’s unstoppable."
Oosthuizen wasted little time rewarding his friend’s faith in him.
In the fairway on No. 2, from 253 yards out, he blasted a 4-iron onto the front, than watched it roll from the front of the green to the back and into the hole. Oosthuizen raised both hands in the air and high-fived his caddie as fans let out a roar that shook the Georgia pines all the way to Amen Corner.
"I knew if I get it right, it’s going to feed toward the hole," he said. "But never thought it would go in."
It was the most famous albatross at Augusta since the one Gene Sarazen knocked in on No. 15 en route to a playoff victory in 1935 — known as the shot that put the Masters on the map.
Oosthuizen sauntered to the cup and plucked the ball out. But instead of saving it for a glass case back home, he tossed it to a fan.
"When something like that happens early in your round, you think that this is it," Oosthuizen said. "So it was tough. It was tough the next five holes to just get my head around it and just play the course."
Oosthuizen’s smooth, sweet swing held up to the pressure. The only problem was, it takes a little flair to wear a green jacket.
He made only two more birdies the rest of the day — both on par-5s, which may as well be pars for the way the long holes play at Augusta National. Watson, meanwhile, made four straight birdies on the back nine to join Oosthuizen atop the leaderboard.
Forced into a playoff when neither could make a birdie on 18, Oosthuizen headed toward the putting green after signing his card only to find it had been taken over for the green jacket ceremony. Security led him back through the clubhouse, where a group of fans greeted him with applause.
Not so fast.
Beginning on 18, Oosthuizen thought he had it won on the first playoff hole. His approach from 150 yards out curled down and stopped 15 feet from the cup. The putt looked true as it rolled but it slid along the upper edge of the cup and refused to drop.
Oosthuizen’s knees buckled, and he buried his face in his hands.
"I thought it was in. There was no way that could stop turning," he said. "It turned the whole way, and about a foot short of the hole just stopped turning. So you know, I thought it was over by then."
But Watson missed his birdie putt, too, and they moved on to No. 10, the second playoff hole. When Watson launched his tee shot so far right it landed behind the gallery, Oosthuizen saw another opportunity.
"And I like the tee shot on 10. So after he hit it in the trees there, I felt confident and just probably spun a bit out of it, catching it off the heel," he said. "It just left me a lot further back than I wanted to be."
He left himself short on his second shot, then flew the green. When Watson hooked his shot out of trouble and onto the green, Oosthuizen was all but finished.
"He must have a great feel of the game," Oosthuizen said.