2014 Newsmaker No. 9: Bubba Watson

By Jason SobelDecember 12, 2014, 1:40 pm

Before he ever hit a single competitive shot this year, Bubba Watson had a plan. Before he reached golf’s pinnacle for the second time in three years, before he chose to alienate himself with a few curious decisions, before he fueled a growing reputation for his ever-vacillating mood swings, before all of the beaming smiles and frustrated frowns and exuberant fist-pumps and mindless temper tantrums, he knew what 2014 would represent. He knew what it would mean to him on a personal level.

“This whole year is about rejoicing,” he said back in January. “When I look back, I have to rejoice on what I have done - what I have done off the course and what I have done on the course. I have been blessed. I've gotten to play the PGA Tour for many years, gotten to win on the PGA Tour. That's what I've got to look at. I can't look at what people say. I can't look at stuff like that. … I just have to rejoice.”

He explained that too often in previous years he’d allowed himself to grow angry on the golf course. He called himself “disgruntled” in clear moments of inward reflection. Whereas the priorities of his peers were largely centered on becoming better golfers, Watson’s list was topped with the goal of becoming a better person. If nothing else, it was an admirable objective.

2014 Newsmakers: 6. Wie7. Reed8. R&A9. Bubba | 10. DJ | Honorable mentions

As the year comes to a close with the man formally known as Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. earning Golf Channel’s No. 9 Newsmaker of 2014, we can point to his three victories – including a second career Masters title – and proclaim the year an unqualified success. Based, though, on his original ambition, this year was never going to be judged solely on wins over losses and birdies over bogeys. This was a year for introspection, a year for personal growth.

And so while most elite players would consider a year that included claiming another green jacket to be the ultimate triumph, Watson assessed himself on less tangible achievements.

“When I look at it in review,” he said during a candid interview last week, “yeah, I had ups and downs – a lot more ups than downs – but I think it was a great year, from a rejoicing standpoint of looking at the positives. Hopefully the positives outweighed the negatives this year. Some years it might be the other way around.”

The highs were extraordinarily high. His Masters win was punctuated by a smile that could have lit up Augusta. Later in the year, a holed bunker shot in Shanghai led to unbridled joy and a WGC victory. In between, his time away from the spotlight was filled with enough charitable efforts to help fulfill that goal of rejoicing.

The lows, though, were particularly low. At the Open Championship, in the midst of missing the cut, he conspicuously took dead aim at the media, insisting that nothing positive was ever said or written about him publicly. The next month, he was outwardly demonstrative during the PGA Championship, refusing to take part in a spirited pre-tournament long-drive competition, then sulking throughout his second round, blaming heavy rain for his poor play.

“My language, my attitude, was going the wrong way,” he admitted months later. “I’m not trying to make excuses. I was terrible at these tournaments. … At the PGA, my ball, because of how hard I hit it – and this isn’t an excuse – but when there’s water on the clubface, it changes the spin. When I’m trying to hit a cut, it doesn’t cut. A lot of people thought I was yelling at [caddie] Teddy [Scott], but I was just yelling to him, telling him I couldn’t hit it.”

There are those who admire Watson not just for his long-hitting prowess, but for his ability to wear this emotion like a battle scar. In the stoic world of golf, where so many other competitors treat their jobs with more precision than passion, he is a welcomed diversion. Like him or dislike him – and yes, there are many who dislike him, ironically, for the very same reason – his polarizing effect is unquestioned.

Not that he cares. Watson insists he no longer keeps tabs on social media and isn’t trying to win friends and influence people. For him, this year was built on a journey of self-discovery – before he ever struck his first shot.

“How did I improve as a person? How did I improve as a golfer?” he asks himself. “Mentally, I think I’ve gotten better. … But I still have to keep going.”

In a game that too often reeks of infallibility, Watson remains a perpetual newsmaker for being its perfect imperfection.

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Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

In context, Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

And out of context, the comment speaks to the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

Who’s the best at their best?

In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took him a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it will be fatigue, maybe it will be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is simply too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good, to be overlooked any longer.

And he’s far from done.

“For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”

Watch: Koepka holes out from off the green at 16

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 5:36 am

Brooks Koepka faced a stiff challenge from Gary Woodland on Sunday in South Korea, but eventually it came time to end the suspense.

Having clung to a slim lead for much of the back nine, Koepka looked as though he was going to have to scramble just to save par when he missed the green at 16. 

Instead, caddie Ricky Elliott was able to leave Koepka's putter in the bag.

That holeout combined with a bogey from Woodland at 17 put Koepka ahead by three, allowing him to walk to victory and to the top of the world rankings.

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Koepka wins CJ Cup, ascends to world No. 1

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 5:07 am

Brooks Koepka eagled the 72nd hole Sunday to cap off a final-round 64, win the CJ Cup and supplant Dustin Johnson as the new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here's how Koepka took over the golf world Sunday in South Korea.

Leaderboard: Koepka (-21), Gary Woodland (-17), Ryan Palmer (-15), Rafa Cabrera Bello (-15), Jason Day (-12), Scott Piercy (-12)

What it means: This is Koepka's fifth career PGA Tour victory but only his second in a non-major, following his maiden win back at the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. Up four to start the day, Koepka saw his lead evaporate as Woodland rocketed up the leaderboard and kept pace with him for much of the back nine. But every time Sunday's result appeared in doubt, Koepka reclaimed his lead in dramatic fashion. He nearly aced the par-3 13th to go ahead by two and later holed out for birdie at the par-4 16th to go up three with two to play. He finished par-eagle at 17 and 18 to shoot a back-nine 29 and close out his third victory in the last five months. With the win, Koepka ascends to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Round of the day: Ryan Palmer set a Nine Bridges course record when he birdied his final seven holes in a row en route to a bogey-free round of 10-under 62 and a solo third-place finish.

Best of the rest: Woodland played his first 16 holes in 9 under par to storm from five back and catch Koepka atop the leaderboard. But his furious Sunday charge finally came to an end when he failed to get up and down for par from the back bunker at 17. He carded his 11th birdie of the round at the 18th hole to sign for 63 and finish solo second.

Biggest disappointment: In retrospect, Woodland called it correctly on Saturday when he said: "You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can. You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number." Woodland put as much pressure on Koepka as he could. He went out and posted that number. Koepka never blinked.

Shot of the day: Koepka's holeout at the par-3 16th, which put him ahead by three, unofficially ending the proceedings:

Quote of the day: "To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid. I don't think this one is going to sink in." - Koepka