Early pacesetter Jordan Spieth slips, ties for second with Jonas Blixt

Bubba Watson withstood an inspired early challenge from playing partner Jordan Spieth to clinch the Masters for a second time in three years with a three-shot victory at Augusta National on Sunday.

Trailing the prodigiously talented Spieth by two strokes after four holes, left-hander Watson took advantage of a stumbling run by his fellow American around the turn as he upped his own game, then maintained control on the back nine.

Watson, who landed his first Major title with a thrilling playoff win over South African Louis Oosthuizen in 2012, mixed five birdies with two bogeys to card a three-under-par 69 on a warm but mainly overcast afternoon.

The 35-year-old, known for his distance off the tee and his audacious shot-making, covered the back nine in even par to post an eight-under total of 280.

After being warmly embraced by his caddie and shaking hands with Spieth, Watson was then congratulated greenside by his wife Angie and their two-year-old boy Caleb.

Spieth, at 20 aiming to become the youngest player to win the Masters, had to settle for a share of second place at five under after signing off with a 72, finishing level with Swede Jonas Blixt (71).

“Although it sits a little hard right now, I’ll be back and I can’t wait to be back. It was an incredible experience.

“Hats off obviously to Bubba, because when he’s driving the ball well out here, he’s very tough to beat,” said Spieth.

Pony-tailed Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, at the ripe age of 50 aiming to surpass Jack Nicklaus by becoming the oldest Masters winner, placed fourth after also carding a 71.

Spieth had been the dominant figure in the early going on Sunday with some riveting golf, four birdies and a bogey in the first seven holes putting him two ahead of the chasing pack.

Watson then benefited from two-shot swings at the eighth and ninth. While he got up and down from left of the green to birdie the par-five eighth, Spieth ran up a three-putt bogey to drop back into a tie for the lead at seven under.

Though Watson stumbled with a bogey at the tricky 10th, he regained a two-stroke cushion when Spieth fell victim to the swirling winds around Amen Corner with a bogey at the par-three 12th after his tee shot ended up in the water of Rae's Creek.

The long-hitting Watson increased his lead to three shots at the par-five 13th after a huge drive set up a comfortable two-putt birdie before he comfortably parred the last five holes to secure victory.

Blixt, also making his Masters debut and just his third Major start, could have been the first Swedish man to claim a major crown and Europe's first Masters winner since Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

World No. 1 Tiger Woods, absent after surgery to ease a pinched nerve, kept his top ranking spot as those able to overtake him — Adam Scott, fellow Australian Jason Day and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson — finished well back.

Top five scores:

280: Bubba Watson; 283: Jordan Spieth, Jonas Blixt; 284: Miguel Angel Jimenez; 286: Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler; 287: Lee Westwood.

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