Bubba Watson's back in the Big Easy


Bubba Watson’s back in action, and that ought to heat things up after a couple lukewarm weeks on the PGA Tour. That’s the way we like it for the Hot Seat as we attempt to gauge who is facing the most pressure to perform in professional tournament golf.

With the PGA Tour moving to the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, our special heat index honors what sizzles in the Big Easy:

Cajun spice – Bubba Watson

Bubba Watson looks as if he were born to win in New Orleans.

He ought to own the Crescent City in his return there as defending champion in his first start since winning the Masters.

As Louis Armstrong, Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker did, Watson captures our imagination with a creative bravado that is let loose more than it’s tamed.

If Watson’s chosen instrument was a trumpet or saxophone instead of a golf club, you imagine his improvisational flair would have rocked the music halls in the Big Easy as raucously as Watson rocked the patrons at Augusta National with his great escape in his final full shot winning the Masters.

OK, putting Watson in the creative class of Armstrong, Gillespie and Parker is over the top this early in his career, but there’s something about Watson’s quirky, unpredictable nature that leaves us wanting more of his wonderful jazz.

That’s why Watson’s on our Hot Seat this week. We’re like the devoted audience at the French Quarter’s Preservation Hall craving an encore.

Watson’s title defense feels like the start of a new chapter in his career, and we’re all curious how he will handle all that comes in the aftermath of a major breakthrough. He was brilliant in his talk-show rounds in the wake of the victory, but you know he’ll have to learn to pace himself. That’s the big question in what’s ahead. How will Bubba Golf hold up to a new set of expectations? How will he handle the relentless requests that come with newfound fame? It’s a new world for him.

Creole seasoning – Luke Donald

Donald has a chance to make the world No. 1 ranking look like a hot potato again this week. He can take back the top spot from Rory McIlroy at the Zurich Classic.

Donald held the top spot for a run of 40 consecutive weeks beginning in late May of last year. McIlroy seized it for two weeks in March, then Donald got it back for a month. Though he was idle, McIlroy gained it back again two weeks ago.

Exactly what Donald needs to do to become No. 1 again will be clear when the Official World Golf Ranking projection is out later this week. It shouldn’t be much with Donald a mere tenth-and-a-half points behind McIlroy.

If Donald moves up again, it will mark the eighth time the No. 1 ranking has changed hands in exactly the last two years. The last time the top spot felt like such a hot potato was in the late ‘90s, when the No. 1 ranking changed hands 14 times in a little more than a two-year period from 1997 to ’99. Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and David Duval took turns with the hot potato back then.

Crawfish boil – Nick Watney

Nick Watney tees it up at the Zurich Classic looking for his first top-10 finish of the season.

Watney, who won twice last year, is playing his ninth PGA Tour stroke-play event of 2012. Back last summer, Watney cracked the top 10 in the world rankings, but he has slipped to No. 22 now. He is also No. 37 in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings in his bid to make his first American Ryder Cup team.

Watney will be looking to get his putter heated up in New Orleans. He’s 126th in strokes gained putting, the largest reason he’s 108th in scoring (71.34). He was 12th in strokes gained putting a year ago.

Jambalaya sizzle – The entire Mobile Bay LPGA Classic field

For the first time this season, Yani Tseng isn’t teeing it up in an LPGA event.

She’s taking the week off with the LPGA playing the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic at The Crossings Course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Magnolia Grove Club.

Tseng reminded us in her last two starts that she can’t win them all, and she certainly can’t win when she isn’t playing, opening the door for a tour trying to narrow the giant gap that Tseng is building in the women’s game with three victories already this season. Tseng isn’t the only big name skipping the event this week. Ai Miyazato, winner of last week’s Lotte Championship, is taking off. So are Jiyai Shin, I.K. Kim and Michelle Wie.

The field will include Na Yeon Choi, Suzann Pettersen Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, Brittany Linicicome, Sandra Gal, Angela Stanford, Morgan Pressel, Azahara Munoz, Hee Kyung Seo and Se Ri Pak