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Bubba Watson’s emotional win at Riviera reminds us that golf is more fun with him around

After a miserable year tumbling down the world rankings, Bubba gets back on the board with a win at Riv.

Genesis Open - Final Round
An emotional Bubba walking off the 18th with his 10th career PGA Tour win.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

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:

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

Place Player Score Payout
Place Player Score Payout
1 Bubba Watson -12 $1,296,000.00
T2 Kevin Na -10 $633,600.00
T2 Tony Finau -10 $633,600.00
T4 Scott Stallings -9 $316,800.00
T4 Patrick Cantlay -9 $316,800.00
T6 Adam Hadwin -8 $241,200.00
T6 Phil Mickelson -8 $241,200.00
T6 Cameron Smith -8 $241,200.00
T9 Jordan Spieth -7 $180,000.00
T9 Martin Laird -7 $180,000.00
T9 Xander Schauffele -7 $180,000.00
T9 Ryan Moore -7 $180,000.00
T9 Justin Thomas -7 $180,000.00
T14 James Hahn -6 $133,200.00
T14 Aaron Baddeley -6 $133,200.00
T16 Alex Noren -4 $111,600.00
T16 Sung-hoon Kang -4 $111,600.00
T16 Dustin Johnson -4 $111,600.00
T16 Derek Fathauer -4 $111,600.00
T20 Rory McIlroy -3 $78,000.00
T20 Bud Cauley -3 $78,000.00
T20 Kevin Chappell -3 $78,000.00
T20 Talor Gooch -3 $78,000.00
T20 Jason Kokrak -3 $78,000.00
T20 Vaughn Taylor -3 $78,000.00
T26 John Huh -2 $46,996.00
T26 Peter Uihlein -2 $46,996.00
T26 Luke List -2 $46,996.00
T26 Rafael Cabrera Bello -2 $46,996.00
T26 Patrick Rodgers -2 $46,996.00
T26 Jamie Lovemark -2 $46,996.00
T26 Dominic Bozzelli -2 $46,996.00
T26 Matt Kuchar -2 $46,996.00
T26 Anirban Lahiri -2 $46,996.00
T26 Sam Saunders -2 $46,996.00
T26 Graeme McDowell -2 $46,996.00
T37 Branden Grace -1 $33,120.00
T37 Tommy Fleetwood -1 $33,120.00
T37 Charles Howell III -1 $33,120.00
T37 Luke Donald -1 $33,120.00
T41 Bryson DeChambeau E $24,516.00
T41 Troy Merritt E $24,516.00
T41 Kevin Streelman E $24,516.00
T41 Pat Perez E $24,516.00
T41 Charley Hoffman E $24,516.00
T41 Brandon Harkins E $24,516.00
T41 Jonas Blixt E $24,516.00
T41 Nick Taylor E $24,516.00
T49 Austin Cook 1 $17,964.00
T49 Brendan Steele 1 $17,964.00
T49 Paul Casey 1 $17,964.00
T49 Chad Campbell 1 $17,964.00
T53 Tom Hoge 2 $16,437.00
T53 Benjamin Silverman 2 $16,437.00
T53 Li HaoTong 2 $16,437.00
T53 Retief Goosen 2 $16,437.00
T53 Martin Kaymer 2 $16,437.00
T53 Adam Schenk 2 $16,437.00
T53 Adam Scott 2 $16,437.00
T60 Ryan Blaum 3 $15,696.00
T60 J.B. Holmes 3 $15,696.00
T60 Harold Varner, III 3 $15,696.00
63 Kelly Kraft 4 $15,408.00
T64 Padraig Harrington 5 $15,120.00
T64 Ryan Armour 5 $15,120.00
T64 Sean O'Hair 5 $15,120.00
67 Martin Piller 6 $14,832.00
T68 Thomas Pieters 7 $14,400.00
T68 Greg Chalmers 7 $14,400.00
T68 Abraham Ancer 7 $14,400.00
T68 Tyrone van Aswegen 7 $14,400.00
T68 Charl Schwartzel 7 $14,400.00
T73 Vijay Singh 8 $13,896.00
T73 Chez Reavie 8 $13,896.00
T75 Sang-Moon Bae 10 $13,608.00
T75 David Lingmerth 10 $13,608.00