Fame knocking on Watson's doorstep

By Doug FergusonApril 9, 2012, 7:48 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. ' Bubba Watson had reason to feel like a rock star.

His playoff win at the Masters on the second extra hole stretched into early evening, and when he finally slipped on the green jacket during the trophy presentation, the flashes from so many cameras danced across his face like strobe lights.

“I’m not ready for fame,” Watson said. “I don’t really want to be famous or anything like that. I just want to be me and play golf.”

He might not have a choice. His style of play - “Bubba golf” is what he likes to call it - already made him one of the popular figures on the PGA Tour.

In the buttoned-up sport of golf, Watson is different. He hits the ball a mile, rarely in a straight line to where he’s trying to get. His driver is pink from the shaft to the head. When he’s not on the course, he is posting videos of his crazy stunts on Twitter. His dream purchase was the “General Lee 01,” the original car in the TV series “The Dukes of Hazard.”

And now he is the Masters champion.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the top two stars of their generation. Rory McIlroy is right behind them, carving his own niche around the world as a U.S. Open champion with the rawest skill of any player in his 20s.

And now there is Bubba, on a first-name basis everywhere he goes.

Perhaps it was only fitting that during his victory speech Sunday he found one downside to winning the Masters. He has been in the members’ locker room since he first showed up at Augusta National in 2008 and couldn’t break 70. The next time he drives down Magnolia Lane, he will walk through a different door, up the stairs to the locker room reserved for champions.

“I heard now that I leave the locker room,” Watson said. “It’s going to be sad. I’ve been there for four years. I know all the guys. They treat me real well. So, sorry.”

It’s time to move on, and move up.

Watson, with his fourth career win in his last 51 starts, is now No. 4 in the world, which makes him the highest-ranked American. He is virtually a lock to be at Medinah for another Ryder Cup. It was the second time in the last six majors that Watson has been in a playoff, losing to Martin Kaymer at the 2010 PGA Championship. He has earned more than $3 million in each of the last two seasons and played in his first Ryder Cup.

How much better can he be?

“Major champion … I mean, can’t do any better than this,” he said. “I’ve won four times and won a major. Who knows? That’s the best part about history. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know the future. We don’t know anything. Hopefully, I keep crying. Hopefully, I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Watson showed his emotions at the start of the week. Stopped under the oak tree after a practice round, someone asked him what it would mean to win, and he brought up the adoption of his first son, Caleb, two weeks ago. Watson got so choked up he walked away.

Winning the Masters? He was uncontrollable.

He sobbed on the shoulder of his mother, Molly. He hugged everyone he could find - caddie Ted Scott, his trainer and players who stuck around to see him go two extra holes for a green jacket, such as Ben Crane, Aaron Baddeley and Rickie Fowler.

Watson is a self-described goof, yet he looked more determined than ever at the Masters.

Sunday at Augusta was a supreme test.

He started three shots out of the lead, and two holes into the final round, he watched Louis Oosthuizen make an albatross on the par-5 second hole with a 4-iron that landed on the front of the green and rolled some 90 feet into the cup for a 2.

That put him four shots behind, though Watson knew he could make up ground, and he was right. The turning point came after his bogey on the par-3 12th, when mud on his ball sent his putt behind the green off line and some 6 feet by the hole. Watson ran off four straight birdies, all of them impressive - a 9-iron for his second shot on the par-5 13th for a two-putt birdie, a sand wedge to 5 feet on the 14th, another massive drive for a 7-iron onto the green at the par-5 15th and an 8-iron to 4 feet at the 16th.

Still, this Masters will be remembered for two wild shots in the playoff. One was an accident. The other was on purpose.

After he and Oosthuizen each missed birdie chances on the 18th in a playoff, Watson pulled his drive into the trees to the right of the 10th fairway. When he saw his ball deep in the woods, he immediately pictured the shot in his head.

Not many others could have seen it.

He used the crowd as a line for how he wanted to start the gap wedge from 155 yards - straight to the fairway, low enough to stay under a large limb and then a wild hook toward the green.

“Hooked it about 40 yards, hit about 15 feet off the ground until it got under the tree and then started rising,” he said. “Pretty easy.”

It set up a two-putt par from 10 feet, enough for the win when Oosthuizen chipped 12 feet by the hole and two-putted for bogey.

Where does Watson get the nerve to hit such a shot? Because that’s fun to him, whether he’s in a practice round with friends or playing for the prestige of a green jacket.

“I want to hit the incredible shot,” he said. “Who doesn’t?”

Who can?

That’s what makes Watson special. His father, who died after the Ryder Cup in 2010, was the only teacher Watson had, and there weren’t many lessons. He showed his son how to grip the club and swing it, and the boy figured the rest out himself. Watson still doesn’t have a teacher.

“Why do I want somebody to tell me what to do?” he once said. “I’m still a kid. I’m hitting shots that I want to hit. I’m doing the things that I want to do. I play it my way.”

Bubba golf. It’s going to be fun.

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.


On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner


On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray


On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard


On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.


Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”