Getty Images

Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

With eye on Masters, Howell wins Match Play group

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 8:15 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Charles Howell III appears to have solved his match play mystery, advancing out of pool play for the second consecutive year after failing to play the weekend his first eight trips to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The timing couldn’t have been better.

At 65th in the Official World Golf Ranking, Howell needs to advance to Sunday’s final four to move into the top 50 in the world and earn an invitation to the Masters, which is always a primary goal for the Augusta, Ga., native.

“Knowing that I need a big week here to get through, obviously, it's massive in match play,” said Howell, who will face Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the first stage of knockout play on Saturday. “Kiradech is an awesome player. I feel like I'm the underdog, and nothing to lose, I like that.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Howell, who began the week as the 59th-seeded player, was unbeaten in pool play, defeating Phil Mickelson on Day 1 and securing his spot in the weekend with a 2-and-1 victory over Satoshi Kodaira on Friday.

Although Saturday’s matches may have a qualifying feel for Howell, who last played the Masters in 2012, he’s also in the field for next week’s Houston Open and could earn a spot at Augusta National with a victory there.

Getty Images

McIlroy to rest, play Augusta after early exit at Match Play

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 7:02 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – For the second consecutive year, Rory McIlroy failed to advance out of pool play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, but there was a silver lining for last week’s champion.

McIlroy, who lost on Friday, 5 and 3, to Brian Harman, said he didn’t have much time to recharge following his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and having the weekend off will give him a chance to prepare for what promises to be an intense build up to this year’s Masters.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The Northern Irishman will travel to Augusta National on Wednesday for what he said will be a 54- to 72-hole, two-day practice session.

“Me and [caddie Harry Diamond] are going up, two members are hosting us, we're going to have a couple of social runs Wednesday and Thursday,” McIlroy said. “I’ll rest up a little bit, recharge the batteries, get into the gym. Sort of have a good week training and a good practice week. And just get myself ready for Augusta.”

McIlroy is listed among the favorites at the Masters, where he could complete the career Grand Slam if he were to win.

Getty Images

Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 6:35 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

(Note: Group winners are highlighted; * equals won in playoff)

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0 (2) J. Thomas: 3-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-2-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 1-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-1-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 3-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 2-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0 (34) H. Li: 0-2-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-0
(60) L. List: 0-2-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1 (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-1-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-2-0 (7) S. Garcia: 3-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-1-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 1-1-0
(18) B. Harman: 2-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-1-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-1-0
(46) C. Smith: 2-0-0 (44) J. Vegas: 0-2-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 0-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 1-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 2-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-2-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-1-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-1 (12) T. Hatton: 2-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-2-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 1-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-1 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-2-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0 (45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-1 (36) B. Steele: 1-1-0
(58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-1-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-1 (55) A. Levy: 1-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 2-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 2-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 2-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-2-0 (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-3-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-0-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0
(61) K. Na: 0-2-0 (59) C. Howell III: 3-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 1-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1
Getty Images

Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 3

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 5:44 pm

Here is how things played out on Day 3 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 2 match results:

Group 1: Dustin Johnson (1) vs. Kevin Kisner (32)

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) vs. Bernd Wiesberger (52)

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Francesco Molinari (21), 7 and 5: Looking like the man to beat, Thomas put Molinari in an early 3-down hole and kept applying pressure, putting him away with seven birdies in one of the most lopsided results of the week – and in a battle of two unbeatens. Thomas can become world No. 1 with a victory this week.

Group 2: Patton Kizzire (48) vs. Luke List (60)

Group winner: Justin Thomas

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Jon Rahm, 4 and 3: Unbeaten through two days, Aphibarnrat put the hammer down on Rahm, last year’s finalist. Barnrat needed only three birdies to secure the group win, while Rahm dropped to 0-2-1 for the week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) vs. Keegan Bradley (63), halved: With the group already decided as they played the closing stretch, Bradley coughed up a late lead for the third consecutive round, halving the match on 18 and finishing the week with a 0-1-2 record that could (and should) have been so much better.  

Group winner: Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) vs. Patrick Reed (19)

Group 4: Haotong Li (34) vs. Charl Schwartzel (49)

Group 5: Hideki Matsuyama (5) vs. Patrick Cantlay (30)

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) vs. Yusaku Miyazato (53)

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Rory McIlroy (6), 5 and 3: Harman took advantage of McIlroy’s missed putts and uncharacteristic mistakes to build a 3-up advantage on the front nine, then cruised to a lopsided victory. At 2-0-1, Harman wins the group, while McIlroy can begin his prep for Augusta.

Group 6: Jhonattan Vegas (44) vs. Peter Uihlein (57) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 4 and 3: Even though Uihlein won the first two holes on his way to routing Vegas, it wasn’t enough for the former U.S. Amateur champion to advance. He finished the week 2-1.

Group winner: Brian Harman

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Xander Schauffele (20), 3 and 1: Two down with seven to play in this battle of unbeatens, Garcia birdied the 12th and 13th holes to square the match, then pulled ahead with a pair of birdies on 15 and 16 and a conceded birdie on 17, after Schauffele tugged his tee shot into the hazard.

Group 7: Dylan Frittelli (41) vs. Shubhankar Sharma (62)

Group winner: Sergio Garcia

Group 8: Jason Day (8) vs. Louis Oosthuizen (25)

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) vs. James Hahn (56)

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) vs. Daniel Berger (26)

Group 9: Kevin Chappell (33) vs. Ian Poulter (58)

Group 10: Matthew Fitzpatrick (31) def. Paul Casey (10), 3 and 2: After looking unstoppable over the first two days of pool play, Casey never led against his fellow Englishman, going 3 down after five holes. It was Fitzpatrick’s first point of the week.

Group 10: Kyle Stanley (45) def. Russell Henley (51), 1 up: Stanley flipped an early 2-down deficit and rolled in a 10-footer birdie putt on the final hole to beat Henley and earn a full point to force the sudden-death playoff with Casey.

Group 11: Marc Leishman (11) vs. Branden Grace (23), halved: Already eliminated, Leishman kept Grace from reaching the pool-play playoff by never trailing in the match. Though the South African holed a 25-footer on 17 to extend it, both players halved the 18th hole with birdies, including a 6-footer from Leishman, to earn a half-point.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) vs. Julian Suri (64), halved: Needing just a half-point to advance, but two down with two to go, Bubba stuffed his tee shot on 17, then hit his driver pin-high on the home hole. After Suri couldn’t get up-and-down for birdie, Watson sank his 8-footer for the halve. It's the second consecutive year in which Watson has won his group.

Group winner: Bubba Watson

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) vs. Charley Hoffman (22)

Group 12: Brendan Steele (36) vs. Alexander Levy (55)

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) vs. Tony Finau (29)

Group 13: Thomas Pieters (39) vs. Kevin Na (61)

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 1 up: Mickelson needed help to advance, but he took care of Cabrera Bello, making birdie on the last two holes to edge the Spaniard. The group was already decided, however, with Howell closing out his match while the other group played the 18th hole.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 2 and 1: Needing just a halve to advance, Howell won the 14th and 16th holes with par to gain a 2-up advantage and complete a perfect week in pool play. It’s the second year in a row that Howell has won his group.

Group winner: Charles Howell III

Group 15: Pat Perez (15) vs. Gary Woodland (24)

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) vs. Si Woo Kim (50)

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) vs. Ross Fisher (27)

Group 16: Yuta Ikeda (47) vs. Zach Johnson (54)