MARANA, Ariz. – Bubba Golf is back in vogue. Bomb it, find it, wedge it, putt it. That has worked so well lately that Bubba Watson finds himself high on the current Hot Golfer List, having won (Northern Trust Open on Sunday) and finished second (Waste Management Phoenix Open) in his last two PGA Tour starts.
Hence, Watson comes to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as a scary draw, if there is such a thing in the unpredictable culture of 18-hole match play. He is coming off a 64-64 weekend at Riviera, hardly an executive course, and floated into Arizona on a cloud of confidence.
So the game plan at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is simple. Change nothing.
“I’m going to go out there and keep the same things going,” Watson said on Match Play eve. “I’m really focused on what I’m doing right now, committed to each shot. I’m making some putts. So I’m confident, you know.”
We know. In bagging his fifth Tour victory and first since the 2012 Masters, Watson birdied 11 of his last 27 holes. He left The Riv having finished first in driving distance (as usual), third in greens in regulation, seventh in putts per GIR and eighth in driving accuracy (an improvement).
Watson now has finished better eighth or better in four of his last five starts. That elevation comes on the heels of a 2013 season where he didn’t place better than 13th in his last eight tournaments.
So what has gotten into Bubba?
The short, distilled answer is comfort, physical health and mental adjustment.
As he has been prone to say in recent weeks, his goal for this year is to “rejoice.” As with many things in the spiritual realm, that can be easier said than done, particularly if your income depends on a collection of 18-hole golf scores. And Watson observers know he has been known to get emotional at times inside the ropes.
“I want to just rejoice, no matter if I miss cuts, make cuts, win tournaments, don’t win tournaments (and) think about how blessed I am playing the PGA Tour,” Watson said. “Right now it’s working. At some point–I’m a golfer–I’ll get mad and pout sometime.”
Good thing he added that last part. If he didn’t get mad or pout once in a while, he might have his Tour card revoked.
There’s plenty that can go wrong in golf, of course. And not just on a course. In Watson’s case, his 2013 hit a few health bumps. Flu a couple of times. Strep throat. He lost weight and energy and probably confidence after entering the year feeling he was hitting the ball better than ever.
“I was thinking it was me, it was me, but it was a lot of tough (health) things going on,” he said. “Now I think I’m healthy and back to where I want to be and I’m obviously thinking a little bit better.”
Thinking better is linked to feeling more comfortable. He credited his elevated play of late to “a combination of everything, getting used to the surroundings.”
Then he went into a long explanation about his fighting to adjust during various stages of his career. The native of small-town Bagdad, Fla., says he has had to get used to the big crowds he doesn’t like, to cameras and interviews, etc.
“It’s just a steppingstone, each thing in my life, each thing that happens, I have to get used to the situation,” he said. “The Masters and a child at the same time, that’s a lot of steppingstones to hurdle.
“And so I just got comfortable with it.”
His recent scores would seem to concur.