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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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”