New-wave Watson embraces challenges

By Rex HoggardAugust 27, 2015, 9:23 pm

EDISON, N.J. – Bubba 2.0 may be calmer with the occasional clarity of thought, but the human highlight reel has not dulled his signature honesty.

Unvarnished and unapologetic, Watson was asked on Thursday, after an opening 65 gave him a share of the lead, what about Plainfield Country Club, site of this week’s Barclays, suits his eye?

“Nothing. Well, the scorecard suited my eye. We'll take the scorecard all day,” he said.

Part of that love/hate relationship is based on Watson’s last visit to this slice of the Garden State in 2011 when he opened with matching rounds of 70 at The Barclays and missed the cut.

As hard as this may be to comprehend, it seems the last time Bubba played the Donald Ross gem he took a relatively measured approach off the tee; so this time he went with a much more aggressive playbook.

“We took a different strategy,” Watson said. “Ping makes a good driver, so we were going to try to hit driver as much as we can. The rough is so thick that I would rather miss my driver in the rough than an iron off the tee or something like that.”

It turns out Bubba Ball plays at Plainfield.

Although Watson hit just half of his fairways on Day 1 at The Barclays, he averaged 303 yards off the tee and found 14 of 18 greens in regulation on his way to a 5-under card that could have been even better had it not been for a three-putt from 73 feet at his final hole (he started on No. 10).


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Watson’s evolving game plan aside, as if the realization that hitting driver is in Bubba’s best interest is some sort of epic epiphany, his play on Thursday was not exactly a surprise.

In his last six PGA Tour starts, Watson has won in a playoff (Travelers Championship), finished runner-up at the RBC Canadian Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and began the postseason third on the FedEx Cup point list.

Still, it’s not often that Bubba is something of an afterthought in his own threesome, but on Thursday he set out with world No. 1 Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who is playing his first event since winning the PGA Championship.

Nor would many have taken Watson in a three-ball bet considering how well Spieth and Day have been playing, but Bubba beat the Masters and U.S. Open champion by nine strokes and the Australian by a field goal.

“It would be a surprise to me. Not so much Bubba's [play] but Jordan [who struggled to a 74 on Day 1],” Day said when asked if Thursday’s opening act played out the way he might have thought it would.

It was a measure of how far Watson has come that even after a three-putt on the last hole and bogeys at two of his final four holes he remained strangely upbeat, particularly on a golf course that likely isn’t on Bubba’s “bucket list.”

For a player who depends on visual feedback as much as Watson, Plainfield is far from plain and simple. As Bubba ran through his card on Thursday he had less of an affinity for the layout than a professional acceptance that not every flavor is going to be Augusta National, where he’s won twice.

“I’m not making excuses about how I play golf. But you look at the golf course, it's a blind shot off No. 1. If you leave it in the right spot, it's a blind shot on the second shot. No. 2 is a blind shot where it's landing,” he said. “I can keep going; there's a lot of blind shots out there.”

Although it’s taken the better part of 36 years, the player one national magazine recently featured under the headline “Bubba: Why we love him and why we don’t” has learned to embrace the rub of the green.

In the age of the “we” generation it is conversely refreshing that Bubba is still an old-school “me” kind of guy.

When Spieth talks about a golf shot or a decision it’s always a group, “We've gone about our business the way we wanted to,” the 22-year-old said earlier this week.

Conversely, Watson often appears alone on an island of his own making. One outlook isn’t better than the other, just different.

“I had some issues growing up where I was very angry at the world and at the golf, and so I've tried to get better at that,” Watson said. “Over the past few years, I've grown up, I guess you'd say, and my thinking, my processes, either I'm getting better as a person or I'm just tired of hitting bad shots on the golf course. So I'm thinking better.”

Embracing Plainfield and all its quirkiness may not exactly have the look and feel of a hard self-examination, but for Bubba it’s an indication that he’s at least interested in improvement and that’s a start.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.