Watson faces career-defining questions after win

By Jay CoffinApril 14, 2014, 7:15 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bubba Watson, what will you do next?

Will you go on a winless drought like you did immediately following your first Masters victory, or will you use the next five years of your golfing prime to mow down foes the way you do at Augusta National?

With two major victories will your career ultimately resemble John Daly, who lost form following major success and is widely considered an underachiever, or Hale Irwin, who was a wizard in winning three U.S. Opens but added 20 PGA Tour victories to a resume that earned entrance into the World Golf Hall of Fame?

There is evidence to suggest any scenario is possible.

Watson, 35, always has been a work in progress. He’ll admit as much.

The aftermath of the first Masters victory two years ago was difficult. He and wife Angie had just adopted their baby boy, Caleb, and Bubba was learning how to be a father while dealing with the newfound attention that goes along with wearing a green jacket.

He handled it best he could, but his golf suffered.

Watson didn’t practice as diligently – which is understandable – and he dropped to 50th on the PGA Tour money list. Once a mainstay inside the top 10 in the world ranking, he plummeted to No. 30. The expectations that came with major glory coupled with fatherhood weighed heavily. So much so that his next victory after that 2012 Masters win came 22 months later at this year's Northern Trust Open.

“Last year was a big adjustment,” said Ted Scott, Watson’s faithful caddie. “You win a major, it changes everything. It changes the way the press see you, the media, the fans, everything. It just changes your whole world. So that’s a big adjustment for anybody. That’s one of his greatest assets is that Bubba does evaluate things and see how he can improve.”

Watson is back to playing Bubba Golf this year, which is impossible to describe but easy to notice once you see it. Essentially, it is Watson’s long-bombing, shot-making, go-for-broke, creative, swashbuckling style that endears him to galleries far and wide.

Scott simply calls Watson a “freak show.”

The purpose at the Masters this year for Watson was simple: He wanted to be Augusta National’s alpha male again.

“I didn’t know how to handle it the best way, so I didn’t play my best golf last year,” he said after his second-round 68 on Friday. “I was in awe when I was a champion … you know you’re sitting there amongst the great champions, and this year I got to be just a bystander.

“I’m coming back with the take that I want the jacket again. I’m coming back with a different mindset, full of energy.”

Watson, of course, accomplished his goal. He recorded a 366-yard drive on the par-5 13th hole that made patrons gasp, and he blistered an iron shot between trees and over water on the par-5 15th while attempting to protect a late lead. The latter shot caused announcer David Feherty to proclaim, “Oh, he’s lost his marbles!” It all worked, though, and Watson shot a final-round 69 to cruise to a three-shot victory over 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt. It’s his sixth-career Tour victory.

Even though this year produced the same result as 2012, the way Watson went about it was different. He was calm during the storm, not fidgety and agitated like he has been so often in the past. During a third-round 74 that could’ve dashed Watson’s hopes of victory, he stated that he was pleased that the round wasn’t much worse.

“If somebody told me on Monday I’d have 74 and still be tied for the lead, I’d have taken it all day long,” Watson said.

Scott confirmed, saying: “When things weren’t going well, I was in his ear saying, ‘Come on, man.’ And he said, ‘I got it, man. I’m fine.’

“I didn’t have to cheer him up, I didn’t have to pump him up, I didn’t have to encourage him. He was flat pretty much as far as his attitude, taking the good with the bad.”

Those close to Watson see that continued transformation off the course as well.

“He’s always going to be a kid at heart,” Rickie Fowler said. “But mentally and with his golf game as a dad and person he’s definitely grown up. I think he understands what’s going on.”

For Watson, what’s going on now is extremely heady stuff. It’s rare air. He just became the 17th man in history to win more than one green jacket. Of the 16 previous, only Tiger Woods is not in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Let’s go out on a limb and assume that’ll be a done deal when Woods is eligible in two years.

Chumps don’t win the Masters on multiple occassions.

The list: Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Horton Smith, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ben Crenshaw, Jose Maria Olazabal and now Watson.

Right now Watson is the new king of Augusta National. Woods was on the disabled list and Mickelson failed to see the weekend for only the second time in his career, all while Watson was making the hallowed grounds his personal playground. Scary to think that Watson has the game to contend – and dominate – at the Masters for another 7-8 years, essentially from now until he is Mickelson’s current age.

Lest you think Watson is a one-trick major pony who only plays well at the Masters, remember that he lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and was in contention late at the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

Right now, though, none of that matters to Watson. There’s no looking back.

“Everything’s a go,” Watson proclaimed. “We are trying to make the Ryder Cup team. We are trying to win the next tournament, the next tournament we play in, trying to make the next cut. So it’s a lot different situation now than it was back then.”

But we must see that this will be different. Now is the time for Bubba to build on Masters momentum. All eyes will be on him.

What will he do next?

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.