The Bubba Watson experience, which we’ve now watched for a decade, is one that comes with so much baggage. He’s a popular foil, has often been a jerk, and is easy to crack on from a distance on social media (I’m as guilty of this as anyone). The critiques of Bubba have often been deserved, and in response to some sort of objectionable or intemperate “Bubba being Bubba” moment.
But golf is absolutely more fun when Watson is around and after his year-plus totally off the grid, we were reminded of that this weekend at the Genesis Open. Let’s just take the golf in a vacuum. Watson is a lefty that works the ball in every direction. And when we say work the ball, we don’t just mean some baby fades or soft draws. These are wild, zany, incomprehensible moves that are exhilarating to watch, when they’re executed and even when they’re not.
We lament the modern golfer that’s become so robotic, the young guys who are poked for being slaves to data and TrackMan numbers and lacking any imagination. Bubba is the opposite. He pulls off shots that few others conceive. It’s incredible to watch and with the modern tracer technology on these golf broadcasts, he provides about as fun a viewing experience as anyone on the Tour.
So even though you may think he’s been a petulant jerk at so many stops along the way, it sucked not having him relevant for the past year or so. He was built to play in front of that tracer technology but we were getting D-grade Bubba, not the traditional Bubba, one of the greatest and most imaginative shotmakers in the history of game. This week we got Grade A Bubba, and even if you dislike the person, you had to love watching him play and perform at Riv. It was impossible not to. This has always been the Bubba paradox. Look at the cut on this one, which is pretty much standard Bubba.
Look where he aims on some of these:
Bubba was aiming at the media tent on the first hole today pic.twitter.com/Z4xnYZv0z4— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) February 18, 2018
It’s fascinating to watch on TV, made that much better by the tracking technology. So it was fitting and tasty to watch him finish his week, his third win at Riviera, with a low right-to-left bullet up the hill at the 18th. It just looks different than everyone else and when he’s on, few can keep up with the big hitting Bubba.
The two-time Masters champ’s natural talent and ability should make him affixed in the top 20 in the world rankings. But he had one of the most precipitous tumbles down the Official World Golf Rankings last year. It was miserable, even historic how far he fell off the map. This week, he entered the Genesis Open at 117th in the world. He had five top 10s in his last 40 starts.
There’s really no excuse for it. But here are a couple — Watson is done fooling around with those trash neon colored golf balls and now says he’s healthier, although he wouldn’t disclose exactly what he had to deal with last year. He also tried to downplay whatever health issue he confronted last year, saying “it was nothing,” but also moments later in his post-win press conference saying he “got sick’ and lost a bunch of weight. Those are a few explanations for that talent suddenly becoming non-competitive since the fall of 2016.
We know he’s back playing a Titleist golf ball. It’s a match that delivered him so much success in his career, at Augusta and at this place, Riviera. His win in this event this week puts him in some elite company with Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan as three-time winners of the Genesis, née LA Open. We know Bubba is a mega talent, but we weren’t sure we’d ever see it fully realized again after his 2017 exit off the stage. After his round, and a good cry on caddie Teddy Scott’s shoulder, he told CBS’ Peter Kostis that he thought about retiring 10 to 12 times last year.
That’s why it was so fun this week, setting aside the baggage, to watch him work the ball once again, and do it around the best course on the PGA Tour schedule. Golf broadcasts are made more interesting when Watson is playing well and can be shown. This is an objective truth.
Now that he’s back with his old golf ball, appears to be over his health issue, and winning, we could be in store for more Watson throughout the year, and at Augusta. Here are your final results from Riv:
2018 Genesis Open Results
|T26||Rafael Cabrera Bello||-2||$46,996.00|
|T37||Charles Howell III||-1||$33,120.00|
|T60||Harold Varner, III||3||$15,696.00|
|T68||Tyrone van Aswegen||7||$14,400.00|