At the start of 2014, Bubba Watson was mired in a nearly two year winless drought. Yet, his popularity, in terms of name recognition, never wavered. He had obvious raw talent and a personality to match, the closest thing in spirit to Happy Gilmore the PGA Tour had ever seen. Fans knew Bubba and Bubba knew the fans.
But it was fair to ask if Watson could reconcile his big swing with his big smile. At his best, he was a fun-loving prankster who served as a refreshing change in a straightedge sport. At his worst, he came off as immature, or even disrespectful. Watson, at 35 during the 2014 season, could have been a flash in the pan. He was a player who maximized his gifts in a splendid two-year stretch. The honeymoon, though, ended quickly.
Fast forward to the current day, and Watson has not only broken his winless streak, he’s put it well in his past. Watson won the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China to notch his third win of the calendar year. He dominated the Northern Trust Open in February with a 15-under winning score. Watson carved Augusta up in April for his second Green Jacket. His victory this weekend, though, suggests something we should have already accepted about Bubba– that a man’s name is always the best description of him.
Watson found himself a stroke down on the 18th hole of the final round just two holes after he held a two-shot lead. His critics readied their collapse pieces while Watson stewed in a fairway bunker on the last. Some 40 or so yards from the green in two on the lengthy par-5, Watson had little choice but to go for it.
He delivered a shot on par with his swooping hook out of the woods at the 2012 Masters. Watson splashed his ball out of the bunker, landed it well short and watched it work its way to the pin. When it disappeared, he lost his mind in the sand. Watson shocked himself with the result.
The eagle put him in a playoff with Tim Clark. Watson showed his mettle– brushing away any talk of immaturity or cavalier attitudes– by sinking a 20-footer for birdie and the win. His two-under, 70 completed an 11-under, 277 weekend for. But with Watson, the numbers rarely tell the story. That’s why we watch him. Each week he surprises us with his game or his mouth and each time it marks a break from the norm.