Bubba Golf, TPC Sawgrass: A visual disconnect

Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson interacts with fans Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., leading up to this week's PGA Tour's 2014 Players Championship.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Bubba Watson isn’t just returning to competition after three weeks off following his second Masters victory. He’s returning to reality. And when it comes to Watson’s record at The Players, reality stinks.

As far as how a golf course fits Watson’s eyes and power game, TPC Sawgrass is something of the antithesis of Augusta National. It is about target golf and not many drivers off the tee. Augusta tends to favor the bomber.

“Me and the golf course don’t see eye to eye,” Watson said Tuesday of the TPC.

The record supports the statement. In six Players starts, Watson has missed three cuts. His best finish is a tie for 37th, twice. Little wonder he calls the place “very challenging.” Asked to describe the TPC in one word, he said, “Mean.”

To hear him, his is a visual problem.

“When I look down No. 1 and No. 10 ... it’s hard to tell the fairway and the rough,” said a candid Watson, who went two weeks after the Masters without touching a club. “I don’t like to look at a tree and aim at a tree. I like to see the lay of the land, and that’s how I hit my shots. So it makes it difficult for me.”

He’s not kidding. When he arrived here Monday morning, he asked caddie Ted Scott to look down the first fairway. Then he asked what might have sounded like a silly question: “Now where’s the fairway?” Watson maintained that it was difficult to see the short grass because of sun and shadows.

On Tuesday, Web.com player Jeff Klauk, son of the former TPC Sawgrass superintendent, walked back-nine holes with Watson. When the Masters champion asked his friend to look down a fairway, Klauk said, “Aim at the tree.”

But as we know, that’s not Bubba’s thing. Now Klauk knows.

“I don’t aim at trees,” he told Klauk. “I look at the fairway and try to shape my ball into the fairway. Where is the fairway here?”

It makes sense that if you can’t see the fairways, it’s probably hard to hit them. But it’s just not the fairways. The island 17th green has his number as well. Or, as Bubba put it, “17 doesn’t see eye to eye with me.”

He figures he’s way over par on that 137-yard menace. Once he flew a sand-wedge shot into water over the green.

“You’re pretty surprised (when that happens),” Watson said. “I’m not skulling it; I’m hitting it pretty good.”

Watson jokes that he’s on a streak, having made consecutive Players cuts, adding, “So maybe a 36th this year, get my best tournament ever here.” He also had fun with the fact that he is one of four players who have a chance this week to supplant the injured Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“Let’s go ahead and write that down on paper,” Watson said, smiling. “Unless 37th (place) moves me to No. 1, we probably don’t need to worry about that.”

Nor does Bubba seem to worry about what others might think of his nutrition. Watson said that after he ate at an Augusta Waffle House in his green jacket hours after the Masters, at least one person suggested an athlete eating there was a negative influence on kids.

“I ate two grilled cheese and hash browns coverage,” Watson said Tuesday. “Athlete or not, it’s great food. I wanted to eat it, so I eat it.”

That aside, Watson gave the impression that he has evolved since winning the 2012 Masters. He says he thought he was the “coolest guy in the world” then. He went on a media tour right after that and since has conceded that he didn’t handle the success well in the next year.

This time he went back to his Bagdad, Fla., roots and visited schools he attended, contributing financially to his former elementary school in the process. He posed for photographs, signed autographs and bought pizza for young students. He also returned to the University of Georgia, where he played on the golf team in 2000-01.

“The high school could care less who Bubba Watson is,” he said. “They’re like, free pizza? Yeah, perfect. We like that guy.”

During the last three weeks, Watson also has struck up friendships with NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Apparently Bubba doesn’t do scrubs.

After James sent him a direct message via Twitter, Watson shot back with, “I saw you on a cellphone commercial, so you can just text me if you want to give me your number. We don’t have to tweet each other.” James obliged, and the texting exchanges began. Watson also has communicated with Durant via the same medium.

“Obviously that’s a big deal for me,” Watson said.

Wearing the green jacket to his schools also was a big deal to him. But he since has put the famous garment in a closet and doesn’t plan to bring it back out. He seems more interested in playing well than show-and-tell.

“Now we’re going to hopefully try to contend at some other tournaments,” he said.

But, from the sound of it, apparently not this week’s.

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