Watson: The Grinch who stole the Masters

By Jason SobelApril 14, 2014, 2:05 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The Grinch Who Stole the Masters is a gentle soul. He’s sensitive. He worries. He cries. Oh, he cries all the time. He’s temperamental, too. He can go from groovy to grumpy in a splash, then right back to groovy again. When he’s happy, he’s really happy, and when he’s unhappy, well, he’s really unhappy.

He stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 180 pounds – give or take a donut, if you believe the commercial. He wears a size 44-long green jacket. This he didn’t steal. He earned it two years ago, way before he became the Grinch. In fact, back then he was downright generous, authoring one of the most dramatic Masters finishes in history. He moved you to the edge of your seat, then caused you to jump right out of it. If Masters Sunday is like Christmas morning, then he brought you everything on your list.

This time, though, he wasn’t in such a giving mood. For everyone who tingles with anticipation for 364 days in hopes of a dazzling back-nine Masters finish, he robbed this place of the roars. He took away your excitement. He turned the greatest day on the annual golf calendar into a two-hour snoozefest before dinner.

The Grinch is named Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. – but you can call him Bubba.

To his credit, he didn’t start out the day as Augusta’s answer to watching paint dry. Despite his prodigious length, he failed to birdie the par-5 second hole, falling a stroke behind playing partner Jordan Spieth. By the time they walked off the fourth hole, he was two down. The same differential existed three holes later.

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We appeared destined for one of those unpredictable, roller-coaster final rounds, the kind that have made these hallowed grounds even more revered. There are times when the green jacket is like a ball in a roulette wheel, the lucky winner claiming the prize if he’s on the right number when it stops rolling. This was going to be one of those times. Maybe it would be the 20-year-old Spieth. Or the 50-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez. Or one of any number of contenders.

Bubba changed that thinking in a hurry.

He birdied the eighth hole when Spieth bogeyed to move into a tie. They repeated those scores on the ninth to give Bubba a two-stroke lead going to the back nine. And you know what they say, over and over again, every year: The Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday.

As it turns out, this one was finished when the final pairing made the turn. Bubba dropped a shot on the 10th, but extended his lead to two again at the 12th hole. From there, he put it into cruise control.

The Grinch robbed us of our magical Masters Sunday.

“The shot out of the woods made me famous,” he admitted, “but this one was a lot better for me and my nerves.”

It was so boring that even Bubba was bored. A self-proclaimed, undiagnosed sufferer of attention deficit disorder, he wouldn’t allow himself to bunt the ball around the last half-dozen holes and play defense. Instead of running out the clock, he was throwing Hail Marys.

On the par-5 13th hole, he decided to cut off the corner and blasted his drive 366 yards … with a fade … off a tree branch. He birdied, of course.

Two holes later, leading by three, the entire viewing audience collectively cringed when he decided to throw caution to the negligible wind. Rather than play it smart and lay up on the par-5 15th, he went for the risky play and tried to reach in two. It was pretty exciting – for a few seconds. Until his ball bounded off the back of the green and he carded a par to retain the advantage.

“You know me,” he said with a smile, “I wanted to get it a little closer to the pin, and so I cut it a little bit without telling my caddie I was going to do that.”

By the time the final pairing reached the 18th green, site of so many fireworks for 77 previous editions of this tournament, it was all over but the crying.

While Bubba was lining up his birdie attempt with caddie Ted Scott, you might have been dozing off. That’s OK – it’s exactly what he wanted. He robbed you, on the greatest afternoon of the golf year, of any excitement.

“Teddy was helping read [it],” he explained. “I went over to him and I said, ‘I'm not very good at math, but we've got four putts, right? He goes, ‘Yes, just lag it down.’

“It's a lot better for my nerves this way.”

For him, sure. He didn’t have to make a crucial birdie down the stretch or hit a near-impossible hook shot from the trees. He didn’t have to sweat it out. He didn’t have to be too nervous.

It wasn’t better for you, though. Bubba’s poise and composure down the stretch deprived you of the thrill ride that so often happens on golf’s greatest afternoon.

That’s why, in the end, this Sunday truly belonged to the Grinch Who Stole the Masters.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."