It had been a while - two years and a lot of frustration to be exact - but Bubba Watson showed he can still handle final-round pressure.
It came at the Genesis Open at Riviera in mid-February when Watson rallied for his first victory since he won there in 2016. He shot 3-under-par 33 on the back nine for 69 and a two-shot victory.
“There’s no shot that’s challenging, it’s dealing with the pressure,” Watson said about the difference in winning and losing on the PGA Tour. “Everybody can hit the shots. We’re all capable of hitting the shots; that’s why we’re in the field. It comes down to doing it under pressure and getting the right thought. You’re going to make mistakes but how do you deal with that?”
The way Watson dealt with that at Riviera was by making two medium-range putts to save pars on the back nine to go with three birdies.
The victory was the 10th of Watson’s career, allowing him to reach an important personal milestone.
“My goal has always been to get 10 wins,” Watson said. “You never know if you’re going to play good again. You never know if you’re going to lift the trophy.”
That was especially true in 2017, the first winless year for Watson on the PGA Tour since 2013. Tellingly, it was the first time he missed the cut in the Masters (74-78) in nine career starts at one of his favorite golf courses.
After being as high as fourth as recently as June 2016, Watson had fallen to 117 in the world ranking the week before he won at Riviera and had even discussed retirement with his wife Angie. He played through 2017 fighting illnesses that saw him noticeably drop weight, though at the time he said he was trying to lose weight by eating better.
After he won at Riviera, he disclosed he’d been sick in 2017 and that caused the weight loss. He won’t reveal the ailments he had, just saying “a lot of stuff (was) going on.”
He said the weight loss affected his play.
“I didn’t have the energy. I couldn’t hit the ball as far as I wanted to or the numbers that I thought,” he said in mid-March.
He’s put weight back on this year and would like to add five more pounds, as long as it is muscle, he said.
Watson said he can free-wheel it more this year now that he’s got a win under his belt.
“It just sets you up for the rest of the year to have a blast,” Watson said. “Bogey, oh, whatever. Every golfer here has a goal of winning. And after you win, we have a goal of winning again. So you keep going and trying to win and keep the momentum going and hopefully get a couple of bounces or chip-ins or putts go your way and you can challenge on Sunday.”
Watson is one of those golfers who excels at certain courses. Of his 10 victories, seven of them have come at three venues - three at Riviera, two at TPC River Highlands (the Travelers) and two at Augusta National.
“I always have confidence there,” Watson said of Augusta National. “We watch (former champion) Fred Couples every year and his name somehow pops on that leaderboard. It’s in perfect shape. You know what to expect. A lot of the holes are shaped the way I like it. You leave it in the right spot, you can putt. I look forward to it every year now that I know I’m in it every year (as a former champion).