Watson continues to surprise


Watson: What more can we expect from him?

Watson: What more can we expect from him?

Considering that Bubba Watson secured his second Masters title last April, defying his critics and proving he was more than just a one-hit wonder, it seems surprising that the left-hander from Bagdad, Florida, was not one of the hot favourites for the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, which took place in November.

The tournament, one of four annual World Golf Championships (WGC) events that brings together the best players from both sides of the Atlantic, forms an integral part of the European Tour's four-week Final Series, and it was mostly the big name European regulars who were being touted as likely victors.

After all, even the most seasoned, well-traveled and cosmopolitan of American golfers do not tend to perform well when not playing Stateside, and Bubba Watson could hardly be counted amongst their ranks.

In fact, prior to the tournament teeing off, Watson was not so much answering questions about his performances on the course as he was addressing his at-times controversial behaviour off it.

Indeed, the 36-year-old has often been his own worst enemy when it comes to how he is perceived by the golfing public.

Three years ago, he embarked on an all-fated trip to France to compete on the European Tour, which ended with him offending almost the entire French nation and being branded as the stereotypical "Ugly American".

He referred to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as "an arch, whatever, I rode around in a circle" and blamed everyone from officials and marshals to fans for him missing the cut.

Later that year at the Travelers Championship, Watson made a disastrous triple bogey at a crucial time and launched into an embarrassing tirade against his own caddie that was caught on TV microphones.

Add that to a few run-ins with fans on the course over the years, and you have a player who commands respect through his performances, though perhaps not always through his own behaviour.

To his credit, Watson spoke frankly about this perception in the week leading up to the HSBC Champions, and revealed that it wasn't only those in the golfing world who have taken him to task for his indiscretions - his own mother, in fact, hasn't been afraid to speak her mind.

"She tells me that I'm not being good. She tells me I should smile more and not be so angry. Pretty much what the media says. I guess she could write for the media, too," he quipped.

"When I make mistakes, when your friends call you out, when the media calls you out, when my wife calls me out, when my mom calls me out, when these people call you out and tell you you're doing something wrong, it's not to punish you," he said. "It's about to help you improve later in life.

"If everybody said I was great all the time, then I would never improve as a human being. The Bible teaches us right from wrong, so I know I'm a sinner. I mess up a lot."

It's not hard to see why Watson divides opinion as much as he does. In this age of PR responses, diplomacy and controlled emotions on and off the course, he feels like a throwback to a long forgotten past.

His game is oftentimes just as unconventional. Watson has carved out a reputation as a player who can create impossible shots from the most unlikely of situations, as someone who always seems to be as close to a miracle as he is to a meltdown.

It was no different in Shanghai.

Trailing Graeme McDowell by two shots heading into the final round, Watson went on a run of three straight birdies from the sixth hole to surge into the lead.

He seemed to be cruising to victory as he headed down the stretch, but things are rarely that easy for Bubba.

Without warning, he bogeyed the 16th and then double bogeyed the 17th as his lead completely evaporated in the space of two holes. Suddenly he found himself in the greenside bunker on the 18th needing an eagle just to force his way into a play-off.

But then, just as he'd done at the Masters in 2012, Watson produced the goods right when it seemed like he'd thrown away the title.

He holed the bunker shot for the last-gasp eagle, and then returned to the 18th for the first playoff hole against South African Tim Clark and promptly birdied that as well to clinch the victory - completely wiping out the three shots he surrendered in just as short a space of time.

It could almost be written off as dumb luck or a fluke if it wasn't for the fact that Watson seems to manage to do this time and time again.

"For me this is the big one," Watson said after his victory. "It's very big because I always wanted to win outside the US. It's my seventh win, gets me closer to ten wins which has always been my goal. It's a World Golf Championship, so when you add it all up it means a lot."

Of his heroics on the final hole, he added: "It was such a tough bunker shot you are not really thinking about making it, but I told my caddie it's been a wild day, a wild couple of holes, but if we can make this it changes everything and it went in like a putt. Clark was like 'Why would you do that?!'

"In the play-off, it was funny because the bunker shot I holed was on the same line (as the putt) so we knew the line, we knew it was fast. I was trying to two-putt and it just fell in."

The win moved Watson up to third in the world rankings (he's since dropped down to fourth), making him the highest ranked American in golf.

Unconventional as he may be, Bubba Watson is a genuine force to be reckoned with in the game, and though 2014 will be a tough act to improve upon, it wouldn't surprise me if he does just that.

Michael Schmitt

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