Forgive the cliché, but sometimes we need to head to Hollywood to find out golf doesn’t always follow the script. You name a story line, there was glimpses of it at the Northern Trust Open. Rory McIlroy’s 2016 American debut? He finished a distant T20 after a Sunday 75. His squat performance on social media created more noise than Rory did.
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) February 16, 2016
How about World No. 1 Jordan Spieth’s plight? He battled McIlroy in the Middle East earlier this year, but this was the first time the duo faced off stateside. Well, Spieth turned in an opening round 79 Thursday and never recovered. He missed the cut.
Then we had a redemption story—Adam Scott, who finished T2—and an underdog story, Canadian Jason Kokrak who tied Scott in second.
Bubba Watson finished a stroke ahead of them both at -15 to collect his second win at popular Riviera and the ninth of his distinguished career. Watson now sits one victory short of his 10 and done proclamation.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 21, 2016
Take nothing away from him, either. While others may have come into the tournament with more fanfare, and Scott and Kokrak temporarily jumped into the spotlight, Watson himself has been somewhat overlooked in the past year.
You know what script golf doesn’t follow? That of the top-4. Let’s be clear. Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Spieth and McIlroy have all earned their place atop the sport. They’ve won often and with charisma. Their relative youth makes for a nice commonality that casual spectators can get behind. Watson, creeping into his late 30’s, doesn’t fit that mold.
His play does, however.
Watson is creative, flexible, powerful and, yes, temperamental. For all of those reasons, it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s going good.
That was the case during the final round. Watson was the 54-hole leader ahead of a logjam of players right behind him. There were times where it looked like he might falter on top. Even his approach into 18 was not without drama. With a nine-iron, (which is about 220 yards for Bubba) Watson only needed to find the green to put pressure on playing partner Kokrak, who needed a birdie. Watson let go of the club soon after he made contact. For a moment, all in attendance and watching on television quickly moved their eyes to find the errant ball. Instead, it landed comfortably on the dance floor, 15 feet from the hole.
Kokrak gave himself a chance, but his birdie attempt curled off at the end. Watson two-putted for the win.
Perhaps Watson’s wavering popularity leads to him being overlooked. Or it’s just he’s made a habit out of showing up every so often. Either way, his five-plus year run has been phenomenal: Nine wins and two Green Jackets since the summer of 2010. When you factor in a few close calls—some his own undoing—and the accolades grow more impressive.
Watson recently stated that if he ever reached 10 career victories he’d retire. That was always a goal. Imagine if he comes down the back-nine at Augusta with the lead?
Now that would be a story to watch.