By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Bubba Watson has been making memories at the Masters the last two years and the long-hitting left-hander could be poised to provide another lasting image at Augusta National next week.
Two years ago, the mercurial American produced one of the most amazing recovery shots in major championship golf to win the coveted green jacket in a sudden-death playoff.
Rival players and club members have been making a pilgrimage to the spot where Watson played his miracle shot.
Deep in the trees to the right of the 10th fairway, Watson hooked a shot from the pine straw that went almost 90 degrees on to an elevated green.
As the galleries roared in amazement, his ball came to rest 10 feet from the cup where he safely two-putted for a par that sealed his victory over Louis Oosthuizen.
Last year, Watson made a splash of another sort as he rinsed his ball three times in Rae's Creek at the par-three 12th hole for a one-putt 10 in a final-round portrait of futility that summed up his 50th-place finish.
"If you're not going to win, you've got to get in the record books somehow," he joked after his final-round 77 last year.
Now, it could be time for Watson to flip the switch and write another happy ending.
The 35-year-old Floridian ended a drought dating back to his 2012 Masters triumph by winning the Northern Trust Open in February during a hot run that marks the best season start of his career.
The victory at fabled Riviera Country, his fifth career PGA Tour title, came during a stretch of six top 10s from seven events that also included a pair of runner-up finishes.
Watson's personality also varies wildly from high-spirited fun to teary-eyed emotion.
Fun-loving Watson cavorts with buddies Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan as a member of the "Golf Boys" rap group that has been a YouTube hit among golf fans.
But he is also known for welling up and shedding tears when talking about his love of family or measuring a meaningful win.
Watson, whose putting form has been untrustworthy over his career, has been working overtime on the flat stick and hopes that will pay dividends on Augusta's fast, rolling greens.
"I'm putting the ball really well, been working on it really hard," world No. 12 Watson said recently. "All these top 10s I've had...that's the reason why."
With four-time champion Tiger Woods missing from the field after surgery for a back problem, and three-time winner Phil Mickelson under an injury cloud, Watson rates as one of the top U.S. hopefuls at the Masters along with in-form Dustin Johnson.
Watson was also a casualty at his last event, withdrawing from the Arnold Palmer Invitational after an opening 83 with complaints he was suffering from allergies.
But nothing could keep him away from playing through the fragrant pines and flowering azaleas of Augusta National.
He ranks first this season in driving distance, with an average of 317 yards on the measured holes, and 10th in scoring average, up from second place on the list due to his opening 83 at Bay Hill.
Watson comes to the Masters further motivated by his drive to earn a U.S. Ryder Cup berth after his sub-par 2013 season.
"I've got to be moving up that board a little bit trying to make that team, hopefully get noticed by the captain or assistant captains," he said.
"I need to keep performing. I have some big tournaments coming up, so looking forward to it."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Julian Linden)