Bubba Watson, who won his first major golf tournament at the Masters, and Carolina Kostner, who won her first World Figure Skating Championships title, were chosen as the United States Sports Academy’s April Athletes of the Month.

Bubba Watson

Watson, an American golfer from Baghdad, Fla., earned the traditional green jacket at Augusta National with an exciting sudden-death playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen. The Masters crown elevated the 34-year-old left-handed golfer to a career-high No. 4 world ranking. Watson, who had tied with Oosthuizen at 10-under par for the tournament, won the playoff with an amazing shot on the 10th hole. He hooked a sand wedge off the pine straw, around the trees and onto the 10th green. The memorable shot settled just 15 feet away from the hole for a par putt and victory for Watson.

Meanwhile, Italian figure skater Carolina Kostner, won the world title in her 10th trip to the world championships. During her free skate performance in Nice, France, the 25-year-old was flawless and she moved from third place to first place to win the gold medal. Her free skate score was 128.94 and her overall winning score was 189.94. Kostner, last year’s bronze medalist and the reigning European champion, delivered a graceful performance of mesmerizing steps and spins in the competition.

The public is invited to participate in the worldwide Athlete of the Month nomination and ballot voting processes. Visit the Academy website at www.ussa.edu to submit your nominations each month, and then return to the website between the first day and second Tuesday of each month to vote on the male and female Athletes of the Month. The votes along with the Academy’s selection committee choose the winners and they are announced on the Academy’s website and in the online edition of The Sport Update.

Finishing second in the men’s category was Rafael Nadal. The Spanish tennis star finally managed to beat Novak Djokovic in a final, ending  a run of seven straight defeats to the top-ranked Serb. Nadal thrashed Djokovic, 6-3, 6-1, at the Monte Carlo Masters for his eighth consecutive victory at the tournament. It was Nadal’s first title since last year’s French Open and the 47th of his career.

Carolina Kostner

The runner up to Kostner on the women’s ballot was Australian cyclist Anna Meares, who set two world records at the World Track Cycling Championships in Melbourne and claimed a record 10 women’s world titles in her career. The 28-year-old Meares stormed around the Hisense Arena to win the 500-meter time trial in a world record 33.010 seconds. She also set a world record of 10.782 seconds for the 200-meter flying start. Meares won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze, which included defending her world championship in the women’s keirin race.

Third place winners for December were White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who threw the 21st perfect game in baseball history against the Seattle Mariners, and Brittney Griner, who scored 26 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked five shots to lead Baylor to the NCAA women’s basketball national championship.

The winners of the Academy’s male and female Athletes of the Month will be considered as candidates for the 2012 Athlete of the Year ballot. In December 2012, the Academy will name the male and female Athlete of the Year for the 28th consecutive year.  The recipients of this prestigious award are selected annually through worldwide online balloting hosted by the Academy in conjunction with USA Today and NBC Sports.

In 2011, the Male Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic of Serbia and the Female Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked golfer Yani Tseng of Taiwan. Both of them dominated 2011’s ballot that drew as many as 50,000 votes a day from across the world.