Watson reaping benefits of attitude adjustment

Bubba Watson acknowledges the crowd after making a birdie during the Accenture Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – Bubba Watson obviously has figured something out. He played off for the PGA Championship and qualified for the Ryder Cup team last August. He beat Phil Mickelson in winning the Farmers Insurance Open in late January. And so far this week he has never trailed in defeating Bill Haas, Mark Wilson and Geoff Ogilvy and advancing to the WGC Accenture Match Play quarterfinals.

So, what has Watson found? What has kicked in?

To hear him, it's an attitude adjustment.

Watson's father, Gerry, died in October after a long battle against throat cancer. That was a wakeup call to his son.

“My dad passed away and I realized that life is too short ... that in the grand scheme of things, golf means absolutely nothing. My life revolves around golf, but it's not my life. My tombstone is not going to say how many wins or losses I had. It's going to hopefully say I'm a good person and everybody misses me.”

There's more to it. Watson had something of an intervention with his caddie, Ted Scott, and wife a couple of years ago. He said they told him that he needed to be far more positive when playing.

His caddie/friend was going to leave him because he got tired of watching Watson beat himself up inside the ropes. “A slap in the face,” Watson said. “My wife said the same stuff. We had a pow-wow and I was wrong.”

Watson knew he was living the dream, making millions through golf, but sometimes his emotions got the best of him.

“I was just got wrapped up in the wrong stuff,” he said. “I was getting mad inside the ropes when people were taking my pictures, just stuff that, who cares. I should be honored that people want to talk to me and listen to what I have to say.”

•••

The beauty of match play is that anything can happen. The down side to match play – particularly if you are a PGA Tour, television or advertising executive – is that anything can happen.

And so it is that the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship entering the weekend has a so-called Elite Eight of Ryan Moore, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Y.E. Yang, Martin Kaymer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Watson and J.B. Holmes.

Good players all. Some are far better than good. All have their own storylines. But at the same time it’s not the sexiest lineup we could have hoped for. It’s not what anyone dreamed of.

No Tiger Woods, no Phil Mickelson, no Lee Westwood, no Ernie Els, no Rickie Fowler, no Graeme McDowell, no teenagers.

But it is what it is. Moore wears a vest and tie. Donald is robotic steady. Kuchar continues his rise. Yang is a PGA champion who took down Woods. Kaymer can become No. 1 by week’s end. Jimenez is the most interesting golfer in the world, one who hits shots in between nights of red wine and premium cigars, one who looks like he’s about to say, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” Watson is a bomber who is looking more and more like a top-10 player. And fellow bomber Holmes keeps surviving even though he was a last-minute substitute who arrived the morning of the first round.

Enjoy the weekend. It will go a lot smoother with acceptance.

•••

Kuchar knows a thing or two about match play. He won the 1997 U.S. Amateur. He has marched to the quarterfinals here at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. And he has witnessed various match strategies over the years.

So he has come up with his own method: Treat it like stroke-play, play the golf course and, whatever you do, don’t get too conservative.

“I just don’t think it words to your advantage to be overly conservative,” Kuchar said after beating Rickie Fowler, 2 and 1, in the third round. “You’re playing the best players in the world. I think too often you find yourself changing your strategy to be more conservative. And I think that backfires.”

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