Watson taming Blue Monster at Doral

By Jay CoffinMarch 11, 2012, 12:41 am

DORAL, Fla. – A pink-driver hitting, long bombing, General Lee driving, Doral hating, swing-for-the-fences, shot-shaping, left-handed son of a gun is leading the WGC-Cadillac Championship for the second consecutive day.

The display has been equal parts breath of fresh air and train wreck waiting to happen.

Such is life when you’re Bubba Watson. You take the good with the bad. Attempt shots no one else would consider and deal with the consequences. The end result usually is either loads or birdies or loads of bogeys. Conservative course management be damned.

Watson followed a second-round 62 with a third-round 67 Saturday at TPC Blue Monster. He takes a three-shot lead into the final round and will be paired with Keegan Bradley, who is tied for second with Justin Rose.

Bubba is, well, Bubba. The name says it all. He’s from Bagdad, Fla., he’s never had a swing coach (never will), and his personality can make people laugh and rub them the wrong way all in the span of five minutes.

Yet Watson is one of the best players in the world. In seven years he’s recorded three PGA Tour victories and has qualified for U.S. Cup teams each of the last two years. So far this week he’s recorded two eagles, 20 birdies, seven bogeys and leads the field in driving, greens hit and putting.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

“He is putting effort into every shot,” said Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott. “Five under is a good score no matter what position you’re in. I like what I see.”

Watson is Phil Mickelson, with more shots. Remember the Phil the Thrill many have loved over the past two decades? The one who goes for broke and doesn’t care much about the consequences. The one who has the nerve to hit 6-iron from the pine straw 205-yards onto the 13th green during the final round of the 2010Masters.

Mickelson gets credit for his creativity and his shot-making skills – which are legendary – because he’s seen as more of a thinker, an intellectual. Watson comes across as more of a scatterbrain, therefore doesn’t get the credit he deserves for pulling off some of the shots he does.

The approach on the feared 18th hole Saturday summed up Watson’s creativity best. With 162-yards to the hole he “just choked up and chipped a low bullet 7-iron, just trying to fly it to the front there and let it somehow stay on the green.” It ended 12 feet from the pin.

After driving the ball in the rough behind a tree Friday on the sixth hole, Watson aimed 40 yards right and sliced the ball so drastically that it ended 7 feet from the hole.

Now, Watson also skulled a wedge that flew the 16th green Saturday and hit a television tower. He also beaned a guy on the left side of the 12th fairway.

Seve Ballesteros would be proud.

“I like a challenge,” Watson said. “I’m stubborn. I like doing it myself. I love applauding myself. I just swing funny and somehow it works.”

Rose was paired with Watson for each of the first three days. He’s had a front-row seat to golf’s most fascinating rollercoaster.

“Some of the lines he takes off tees can suck you into a false sense of security,” Rose said. “He’s cutting off doglegs, and for me it’s not doable.

“He’s going after it and it’s fun to watch. Obviously he’s got great control out of Bermuda (grass), too, and he’s 60, 80 yards from the green, and he’s not scared to let it bounce two or three times and let it roll up to the green. He has great hands and can work the ball.”

Watson is also eccentric. This is the guy who said Friday, after shooting 62, that the golf course didn’t suit him. It’s the same guy who shot 58 in late December at the Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and tweeted live, play-by-play action over the last few holes. He recently bought a modified orange 1969 Dodge Charger from a Barrett-Jackson auto auction that was used in the 1980s television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

None of that matters now, I suppose. He’s on the verge of winning the biggest PGA Tour prize in his career. Whatever happens Sunday – he's one for four with the 54-hole lead – you can bet that it’ll be dramatic one way or another.

According to caddie Scott, though, the plan is simple.

“Time to go out and try to play Bubba golf again,” he said.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”