Like most entering this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, the unofficial start of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season for many top players, Bubba Watson began the week looking for improvement.
Improvements to a game that has made him a two-time Masters champion and a perennial fan favorite; and – perhaps more importantly – improvements to a life that has made the southpaw surprisingly inconsistent and a media enigma.
“When I make mistakes, when your friends call you out, when the media calls you out, when my wife calls me out, when my mom calls me out, when these people call you out and tell you you're doing something wrong, it's not to punish you or get on to you,” Watson figured. “It's about to help you improve later in life.”
On Sunday “Bubba from Bagdad (Fla.)” put a stamp on a victory that was filled with improvements, both personal and professional.
The golf world has become accustomed to Bubba’s high-wire act – carving impossible shots from improbable positions and always walking the tightrope between masterpiece and meltdown.
On Sunday at the WGC-HSBC Champions, it could have gone either way for Watson. After beginning the day two shots behind front-runner Graeme McDowell, Bubba did what he does best. He birdied three straight, starting at Sheshan International’s sixth hole, to move into the lead and appeared on cruise control heading down the stretch to his first World Golf Championships bottle cap.
Cue Bubba being Bubba.
Watson bogeyed the 16th hole, double bogeyed at the 17th hole and arrived at a greenside bunker at the par-5 closing hole in two shots, needing an eagle to force a playoff with Tim Clark.
It’s not stunning that Watson holed has bunker shot to force overtime and won the playoff with a birdie at the first extra hole. We’ve seen these types of heroics before (see Masters, 2012).
What we have seen far too little of, however, is a gritty performance when things aren’t going Watson’s way. As talented as Watson is, he has shown a penchant for unraveling at crucial moments (see Travelers Championship, 2013).
On Sunday in China, Watson showed signs of improvement, through good times and bad. During a moment when the old Bubba may have lapsed into a self-destructive cycle, the new guy pressed ahead and delivered a signature victory.
On the heels of his most successful season on the Tour, the top-ranked American has shown real signs of improvement – professionally and personally.