Watson evolves to father and Masters champion

By Jay CoffinApril 9, 2012, 12:39 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bubba Watson is thrilled that he won the Masters. He hopes it earns him two weeks off from changing baby diapers.

Watch out world. Bubba Watson officially has grown up.

In a lot of ways, Watson’s magical Sunday at Augusta National is just another step in his evolution.

It wasn’t too long ago when wife Angie and caddie Ted Scott sat down with Watson to have a heart-to-heart conversation about his actions on the golf course. He was petulant, he was emotional, he was annoying and, frankly, he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. The meeting was an intervention of sorts. Scott threatened to leave the bag.

“I was going the wrong way,” Watson says. “I was so wrapped up in what everybody else was doing.”

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Since that day eight years ago, Watson has tried to be a better person. The plan hasn’t always worked to perfection, but he’s well rounded more today than at any point in his life.

There are many reasons why.

First, he’s older. At 33, Watson has been around the block more than he was in 2003, when he first arrived as an arrogant kid on the PGA Tour.

Second, he’s dealt with issues that have made him more responsible, made him stronger in his Christian faith.

The first curveball life threw at him was 18 months ago when his father Gerry passed away after a nasty bout with throat cancer. Gerry Watson was the reason why Bubba played golf. He was his biggest critic and his biggest fan. The emotion that poured from Bubba’s face after his first PGA Tour victory – the 2010 Travelers Championship – was because he knew his father was in failing health.

Shortly after his father’s death, Angie was diagnosed with having an abnormally sized pituitary gland, a situation that is not a problem now, but was a scare at the time.

Watson won twice on the PGA Tour in 2011 (Farmers Insurance Open and Zurich Classic) and established himself as an American star. But there was still something missing.

Bubba and Angie had always wanted a child but Angie told Bubba on their first date a decade ago that they’d have to adopt if they wanted their dream to become reality.

They started the adoption process four years ago but never got serious about it until this past winter. They were turned down multiple times, the last time coming on Monday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But a day later the phone rang again; this time it was good news. A family liked the Watson’s profile and wanted them to adopt their newborn son.

Instead of withdrawing from Bay Hill, Watson still played – and, amazingly, tied for fourth place – then drove with Angie to South Florida the following Monday morning to meet baby Caleb for the first time.

“We’ve had a few disappointments over the last six months,” Angie Watson said. “It’s shocking to me, Bubba’s strength throughout the season to play as well as he has because we’ve had so many ups and downs throughout this process.”

Watson had a hiccup a month ago at the WGC-Cadillac Championship when he held a comfortable lead heading into the final round at Doral but shot 74 to lose to Justin Rose. Many questioned Watson’s ability to deal with pressure down the stretch while in contention.

Two weeks after that blunder, though, Watson became father to Caleb, who is now 6-weeks-old.

“He’s grown a lot and he’s not done,” said Johan Elliott, a member of Watson’s management team. “Having Caleb has been a calming factor that’s for sure.”

Angie and Caleb were not at Augusta National Sunday to support Bubba. The family believed that Caleb’s young life had been disrupted enough and that he didn’t need the stress of flying to Georgia to see his daddy.

So Bubba went it alone, using his pink driver and swashbuckling style to shoot a final-round 68 and get into a playoff with 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Watson bogeyed the historic 12th hole in regulation and then responded with a flurry of birdies on Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Rickie Fowler, Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane came out to watch the playoff and support Watson because they knew his family was not there.

Watson kept his emotions in check and pulled off one of the most imaginative shots in major championship history on the second playoff hole when he couldn’t see the green, but hooked a wedge shot off pine needles from 155 yards to 10 feet. An easy two-putt sealed the green jacket when Oosthuizen couldn’t convert par.

“Being so talented and so emotional in one package and to be able to pull that together is insane,” Elliott said.

What’s insane is that Watson is now a Masters champion, something he never dreamed as a kid because he felt it was unattainable. But it has now happened, and Watson’s evolution is a major reason why he’s been more successful on the golf course.

“It’s a slow process,” Watson says about his attitude and his game. “Been working hard. It’s gotten better. Last year was a little better and this year is better. Hopefully the years to come it gets better and better.”

So far, so good.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

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Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.