AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Bubba Watson sees golf differently from anyone else.
His most famous shot is still that gap wedge he hit from a forest of pine trees to the right of the 10th fairway at Augusta National in a playoff, the one he hooked some 40 yards to an elevated green. “If I have a swing, I have shot,” is the credo he shares with longtime caddie Ted Scott.
It’s what he often refers to as “Bubba golf.”
What he still has trouble seeing is the amount of trophies that are starting to pile up.
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He won the Dell Technologies Match Play for his second victory in his last four starts, the first time he has ever won twice in a season before the Masters. It was his second World Golf Championship and his 11th victory on the PGA Tour.
“A guy named Bubba from Bagdad, Florida, never had a lesson,” he said, a story he repeats often because part of him still can’t believe all he’s done. “All I had is dreams and creativity. I enjoy playing golf because that’s what I’m doing as a kid. I’m a kid who happens to be 39 now, and somehow I keep getting trophies.”
His victory at Austin Country Club was remarkable for a number of reasons.
He doesn’t like this format. Watson reached the semifinals his first year of the Match Play, but he never got beyond the fourth round in his next six appearances. That might explain why he booked a vacation starting Sunday.
Even when he reached the final round, he never imagined he would be playing for the title. His semifinal match was against Justin Thomas, who could have reached No. 1 in the world with a win. Watson saw that match going differently.
“Justin Thomas making every putt and me losing, him looking at me and going, ‘I’m No. 1.’ Truly, he’s playing so good,” Watson said.
Watson caught him on a day when Thomas couldn’t buy a putt, and Watson made his share of them in a 3-and-2 victory that sent him into a championship match that wasn’t much of a contest. He faced Kevin Kisner, who survived a 19-hole semifinal victory over Alex Noren. An hour later, Kisner couldn’t hit a shot where he was aiming and lost six of the first seven holes. The only reason he didn’t lose all seven was because Watson missed a 4-foot birdie putt.
What satisfies Watson the most is where he was headed last year. He was not in a good spot.
Watson still keeps to himself the health issues last year that caused his weight to drop to 160 pounds. He won’t attribute his worst year on the PGA Tour to playing the different colors of a Volvik golf ball, which he no longer uses. And he doesn’t get into details of the conversation he had with his wife and those closest around him, when he contemplated retirement.
Watson stays plenty busy with two children and business interests that range from a candy shop to a car dealership to a minor league baseball team.
“There’s a lot of time I could be wasting — not wasting, but improving those businesses,” Watson said. “Or I could be struggling to make cuts on the PGA Tour. So that was my option. Which one?”
It goes back to his vision, and the reason he was attracted to golf in the first place.
“I want to be creative,” Watson said. “I want to let my mind run wild on the golf course. That was my passion. And the other things are my passion, but right now I still feel like I have the ability to play golf.”
He played it as well as anyone at the Match Play.
Watson played 109 holes over five days, and only once did he get to the 18th hole. What pleased him the most was staying focused on all but about four or five shots for the week, most of those exceptions on the 13th hole that didn’t suit his eye.
Fittingly, that’s where the trophy presentation took place when he finished up his 7-and-6 victory over Kisner.
And now he heads to Augusta National, where the two-time Masters champion is sure to be one of the favorites. Watson was No. 117 in the world when he left Pebble Beach six weeks ago. He heads off to his vacation, delayed by one day, at No. 21 in the world.
“A favorite? That’s stuff that we don’t care about,” Watson said. “We want to try to go out and do our jobs. And if we do our job well, we think we’re good enough to beat the other guys.”
He can see that happening, especially at the Masters, because it’s already happened twice.