Bubba Watson is back in the winner's circle, ending almost a two-year drought by catching fire on the weekend at Riviera to take the Northern Trust Open. Watson has meandered from contention to disinterest since that breakthrough major championship victory at Augusta National in 2012, and this weekend was a nice rebound from his bogey on the last hole two weeks ago that gave it away in Phoenix.
At the 36-hole midpoint, Watson was nine shots back and in a tie for 40th, not even playing in the top half of the tee times going off the 1st hole on Saturday. But he lit it up Riviera for a 3rd round 64 to get back in it, and promptly carried that over to the front nine on Sunday. He went out in 30, mixing in the usual bombs off the tee, ridiculous shot shapes on approach, a hole-out from the bunker, and steady putting from moderate distances on Riviera's unpredictable greens (details and video of his hot start here)
Bubba's charge was already in full effect after a birdie on the extremely difficult par-3 fourth, but this bunker shot, which Jim Nantz called the best of his career, put the group of relatively untested and inexperienced 54-hole leaders behind him on notice.
It was just the sixth hole, but after his play on Saturday and the four birdies in his first six, Sunday's final round suddenly made it Bubba's to lose. A steady birdie putt from 15 feet at the eighth would put him in sole possession of the lead, and he would never relinquish it.
Watson has struggled down the stretch in the series of events where he's contended since the 2012 Masters, most recently at TPC Scottsdale. But he added to his lead with a birdie at the par-5 11th, and held off fellow bomber Dustin Johnson by making six straight pars. A birdie with his final stroke of the weekend at the amphitheater on the 18th only added to the margin, but the result was already determined. Bubba's son, Caleb, stole the show in the final moments after an approach shot that removed all doubt (via Kyle Porter of CBS):
Johnson, who already has a win this season during the inaugural wraparound schedule, was the biggest challenger but he squandered his chances for birdie to match Bubba. Johnson is probably the most talented American golfer not named Tiger or Phil, but he can be frustrating to watch on some Sundays. With the way he was crushing the ball, Johnson should have made birdie at the easier par-5 17th to pull even, but he scrambled to just get a par and that was pretty much it for his shot.
Bubba's back-to-back rounds of 64 and a 14-under weekend is as good as it gets at a historic tournament like Riviera, and Watson clearly had something working here on the west coast swing. He will tee it up in the WGC-Match Play this week, but after a couple years away, he will be a contender again at Augusta if he continues his early-season form.
Here are the final results from the field that made the weekend at Riviera:
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4|
|T45||Richard H. Lee||-1||69||72||73||69|
|T45||Davis Love III||-1||71||71||73||68|
|T52||Billy Hurley III||E||70||71||74||69|
|T70||Harold Varner III||4||69||72||72||75|