By Brian Wacker
Bubba Watson keeps adding his name to the history book. One day it could be in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sunday at the Travelers Championship, Watson picked up the 12th victory of his PGA Tour career, which includes two Masters titles and a World Golf Championship. He once joked about retiring after 10 wins, but with three tour titles earned this season, the 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Watson said following a final-round seven-under 63 to win by three over Stewart Cink, Beau Hossler, J.B. Holmes and Paul Casey after starting the final round six strokes back of Casey. “My whole career, but this year has been outstanding. After last year, who knows what to expect.”
Few would have predicted a turnaround like this.
Last year, Watson made a dubious change in golf balls, going from Titleist to Volvik, and battled undisclosed health issues, losing 20 pounds in the process. His results suffered, too. Watson registered just three top-10 finishes and missed more cuts (seven) than he had in nearly a decade. His World Ranking plummeted as he dropped outside the top 50 and eventually to 117th earlier this year.
Then came the Genesis Open in February. Healthy and back to playing his previous golf ball, Watson ended a two-year winless drought and joined Ben Hogan as the only players to have won three times at Riviera and twice at Augusta National.
Sunday’s victory was at another of Watson’s old favourites: TPC River Highlands. With the win, Watson moved alongside one more legend, Billy Casper, as the only player to hoist the winner’s trophy at least three times at the PGA Tour’s Connecticut stop. That’s more than Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson, who each won the tournament twice. It’s also more than Sam Snead and Lee Trevino, who won it just once.
With three wins in 2018, Watson also has more victories than anyone else on tour this season.
“I wasn’t thinking about a victory today,” Watson said. “I was just playing golf and trying to stay focused and committed so I could get momentum and confidence going into the next tournaments coming up.”
He ended up on top again anyway. But this one was different.
At Riviera, Watson had a one-shot lead going into the last day and seized control with two clutch par putts. He holed a bunker shot in the middle of the back nine before hanging on to win by two.
In his second win, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Watson blew out Kevin Kisner, 7 and 6, in the 18-hole final.
At the Travelers, Watson rallied from six back at the start of the day thanks to six birdies over his final 10 holes, including one on 18 after nearly jarring a 71-yard wedge shot for eagle. It was also his second 63 of the tournament.
“This is a weird week,” Watson said. “I sent [my caddie] a voice text and apologized [Saturday] after we got done [with the third round] for my attitude for the last couple days.
“So to come out strong and shoot seven under on Friday and guarantee the cut and have a chance on the weekend, it was a different victory.”
It helped, too, that he did what Casey couldn’t do.
The 40-year-old Englishman, leading by four at the start of the day, got off to a bumpy start, pushing his opening tee shot right. The ball ricocheted off some railroad ties, landed in the fairway and he went on to make birdie, but it would portend a more ominous afternoon.
Casey didn’t make a single birdie the rest of the day. His sealed his fate with a bogey on 16, where he failed to get up and down from behind the par 3, and another on 17, where he drove into the water on the dogleg par 4. He finished with a 72, with only a handful of players in the field posting a higher Sunday score.
“Just not hitting the way I wanted to and not comfortable,” Casey said. “The first few holes were not good. You know, just wiping across it. Either pulling it or flaring it right. That’s difficult to play with on benign conditions and extremely difficult to play with when it’s slightly windy like it was today.”
For Watson, it was all of last year that was difficult. No more, though. He’s got a short memory. “It was a rough year last year, mentally, physically,” he said. “This year has been good.”
And in the end perhaps a career good enough to take him all the way to the Hall of Fame.