As Watson contends at Players, No. 1 ranking in view

Bubba Watson during Friday's second round of the PGA Tour's 2014 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Bubba Watson during Friday's second round of the PGA Tour's 2014 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. ( Associated Press )

Friday, May 9, 2014

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A self-deprecating Bubba Watson talked about his lack of success at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday.

He has made only three cuts in six appearances at The Players Championship, with his best finish a tie for 37th: in 2009 and '13. So, there was a lot of truth in those self-inflicted zingers for the recent Masters champion.

Sitting at 3 under after a 69-72 at the halfway mark, Watson is a little more serious about his chances, considering he has won twice this year (Northern Trust Open before Augusta) and his growth as a golfer is progressing.

“I still consider myself young in the game of golf, and so I'm just learning, just trying to get better,” Watson said in explaining how he approaches different golf courses. “Tougher golf courses, I'm learning how to play them a little bit. Not so much just bombing away, and so I'm learning just to kind of pace myself. And if you looked at the Masters, I paced myself. I wasn't trying to do anything heroic. I just tried to get my pars – as long as nobody else is birdieing – get my pars and get out of there.”

Watson made one bad swing in Friday's second round at the Stadium Course, finding the water off the tee at No. 5, resulting in a double-bogey 6. Besides that errant tee shot, his round was relatively solid, with two bogeys and four birdies.

His success this week is surprising, given that he took 14 days off after his Masters victory and didn’t touch a club. Only in the past eight or nine days has Watson become reacquainted with his clubs, clearly coming in to the Players a little rusty.

“My goal around here is even par or better, and that's what me and Ted (Scott, his caddie) always talk about,” Watson said. “If I can shoot under par on any golf course, on a tough golf course, any golf course, that's our goal. If you went around the whole year and shot 1 under every round the whole year, would you be mad at it? You might be mad on some of the golf courses, but on some of the golf courses you'd take a 1 under.”

His brand of "Bubba Golf" typically is grip and rip it, but this week's game plan is different: "plodding," as Watson calls it. He wants to control the ball and not try to overpower the course.

After his second Masters victory, Watson has higher expectations. After he won his first major, in 2012 at Augusta, he didn't win again on Tour until early this season at Riviera.

“Sometimes golf rubs you the wrong way or the breaks don't go your way or you don't make a putt here or there,” Watson said. “I saw last year my ballstriking was really good. I've changed irons and I've changed balls, which made me a lot more consistent, so I didn't see it as really bad. I just saw it as one of those things, maybe put too much pressure on myself in my head.”

If things went extremely well this weekend for Watson, he could reach No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which he considers would be a bit overwhelming.

“Tiger Woods has got 80 (victories) and he's still playing on our Tour," said Watson, ranked fourth, of the current World No. 1 "You've got Phil Mickelson, who's never been No. 1. He's got 42 wins. So, yeah, I wouldn't be No. 1. People would say I'm No. 1, but nobody would still put me as the favorite if Tiger Woods was in the field.”