Bubba Watson and the wonderful, amazing, very good day at Match Play

Bubba Watson PGA Tour WGC Dell Match Play Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports

Bubba Watson and the wonderful, amazing, very good day at Match Play

PGA Tour

Bubba Watson and the wonderful, amazing, very good day at Match Play

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AUSTIN, Texas – Bubba Watson hasn’t played very well for several months, but that hasn’t dampened his love for the game.

Not one bit.

Watson had just finished off Scott Piercy, 4 and 3, in a dazzling display of power in Round 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on Thursday, and Piercy told him he still was going to play the remaining three holes.

“Hold on, I’ll join you,” Watson said.

And once they finished on the 18th green, Watson, whose match had been the first one off at Austin Country Club during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, had a completely open afternoon in front of him. The possibilities were endless. So where was he headed?

“I’m going to watch the (TV) coverage,” said Watson, who is 2-0 this week, like some little kid about to visit the zoo. He was genuinely excited. “With the windy conditions, it’s going to be amazing.”

Amazing would be a pretty fitting way to describe Watson on Thursday. The winds were howling past 25 mph in Austin, requiring a good deal of creativity, and Watson just kept producing quality – and jaw-dropping – shots.

He drove it next to the green at the 349-yard fifth (setting up the third of his five front-nine birdies), was just about green-high in two at the 598-yard sixth, and drove it 379 yards and across the road at the par-5 12th, leaving only 179 yards in. Birdie. On 15, Piercy, a long knocker himself, smashed a drive only to see Watson hit one 40 yards past.

At the short, 304-yard 13th, the wind was blowing hard into the faces of the players, so there was no getting home. Water lines the entire left side of the hole and fronts the green. The prudent play was something safe played to the fairway short and right. Nonetheless, Watson took out his mighty pink Ping driver and hit a low laser that cut about 30 yards and settled nicely down the fairway, leaving a short pitch.

“That was the coolest shot he hit, that tee shot at 13,” said Teddy Scott, Watson’s caddie of 11 years. “For a lefty who cuts it, if you spin it or block it at all, it’s in the water. He hit this low bullet-cut that was phenomenal.”

Piercy, for his part, could do little but shrug his shoulders. He’d play fairly well and make one lone bogey on the day (at the par-3 fourth), but on this day, he wasn’t going to stay with Watson. Few could.

“That was a total buzz saw,” Piercy said with a tinge of admiration.

“Normally if you shoot 3 or 4 under par in a 20 mph wind, that waxes a lot of guys. And I got waxed. He played great. His putter, it was like it was on tracks, perfect speed, right in the middle, time after time.”

Give Watson credit. His play has not been to his usual standards, but he’s handled things very well, and been able to stay patient. Watson has not had a top-10 finish since September’s Tour Championship, and despite being ranked No. 7 in the world at the time, was left off the U.S. Ryder Cup team. (He’d make the trip anyway, volunteering as an assistant captain.)

He credits his better play this week in Austin to a small adjustment in ball position, both with his putting and with his long game. Brandt Snedeker gave him the putting tip, and Watson moved the ball back slightly in his stance after Scott watched him hit flop shots and told him, “I’ve never seen you chip like that.”

Watson, 38, a nine-time PGA Tour winner, said his swing also has been a little out of sorts due to the “15 or 20 pounds” he has lost in recent weeks. It’s not as if Watson was carrying any weight to spare – he now looks as thin as a 1-iron – but he says he altered his eating habits for health reasons. He is down to about 172 pounds after weighing closer to 190 near the end of 2016.

What did he cut out of his diet?

“Oh, everything that tastes good,” he said. “Actually, I’m eating small meals more times. I threw in fish for the first time, a lot of chicken. Normally I don’t like eating on the golf course, but we made these little protein balls.

“No chips. I haven’t had a chip probably in three or four months. So it’s just things like that. The stuff everybody loves? I just cut it out. So I’m basically just bitter at the world.”

He laughed at the thought. These days, being a better man, not a bitter one, is much more a priority for Watson than being a better golfer, and it’s something that he has worked hard to pursue. The poor golf results? They really haven’t fazed him.

“He’s had success out here (in golf),” Scott said. “He’d really like to work more on himself, and be a better light, a better example, to people. Because of that, I think it’s making it very easy for him to deal with adversity on the golf course.

“You realize there are things that are way more important than results.”

The timing for Watson to finally get his game in order could not be better, as the Masters looms just less than two weeks ahead. Watson already owns a pair of those coveted green jackets.

“I’m always thinking about Augusta,” Watson said. “If there’s a major – not a golf tournament, but a major – built for me, where I have a good shot at it, that’s it. That’s just common sense, right? Everybody knows a lot of the holes go the way that I want to shape it, and there’s not high rough.

“That U.S. Open … well, it gets a little tough.”

Watson has established his own pre-Masters ritual. One perk for a past champion at Augusta is that the competitor can play with a guest on the Sunday before the start of tournament week. So the last two years Watson has taken his wife, Angie, and there is a standing match: Watson and member Lee Slystinger, a Birmingham, Ala., businessman, against Angie and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

“We won the last two years,” Watson beamed proudly. “We have trophies and everything.”

This week, his goal is to survive his group – Watson, Piercy, Thomas Pieters (his Friday opponent, who is 1-1) and Jhonattan Vegas, quite a powerful foursome. Just making it out of the group to the weekend, he believes, stands for something. And it will give him nice momentum heading to the Masters.

“Golf is a long – hopefully a long – sport for me,” he said. “So I’m not worried about this week, next week, two weeks … I’m worried about the next five years.”

Certainly, a few more match victories in Austin would be a nice place to start.

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