Bubba Watson. Saudi International 2023/Paul Severn

Returning warrior Bubba Watson walked off the course after his first competitive round in almost a year with a broad grin on his face — having just missed the cut.

The 44-year-old American completed his second round at the Saudi International in a blistering 66, belying the fact that this was his first tournament since undergoing a knee operation eight months ago.

While he did not make it to the weekend at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club — a first-round 76 meant he finished two strokes outside the cut line — the two-time Masters champion had plenty to be happy about with a return to Augusta looming in April.

“It was good out there today, but it was scary, though,” Watson said at Royal Greens on Friday. “You think about the last time I played, it was the PGA Championship [in May]. You think about the leg, you think about is it going to feel that way again? What if you have one of those weird lies in the desert, on the grass or on a hill, will it happen again?

“For me — I can’t speak for anyone else who has an injury, but for me personally, it was tough. It was nerve-racking.

“Then the wind was really, really tough [on Thursday], so it was just double hard. So I knew that my score didn’t equate to how I hit it or how I can hit it. It was just knocking off the rust, trusting my body, and then difficult conditions. So it was, I guess, three strikes that went against me.

“Then today, less wind. Now being able to trust a little bit more in my golf swing and my leg, it was a better score. It was four-under today. It was night and day.

“Every round I play is just going to give me more and more confidence.

Ahead of the Masters, Watson will pick up a club and compete for the first time in LIV Golf at Mayakoba in Mexico, having been a non-playing captain in the series ‘ 2022 season.

Go home, and you just grind. The more rounds I can get under my belt, the more practice I can get, the more trust I can gain.

“I can’t wait,” said Watson, who doubled as an on-course commentator for LIV last year. “The reason why we all signed up is easy. The biggest reason is team golf. That’s a no-brainer. We enjoy it. We want to hang out with our buddies. Like the last two days I played with Harold [Varner III], being able to spend time with him, it’s fun. So me and him getting to battle together with our other teammates, can’t wait.

“HV3  told me how fun LIV was last year. I had to commentate. Even though I was with the team, I wasn’t. I couldn’t battle with them. I can’t wait to be able to battle, good or bad, right? You play a good round or play a bad round, it’s going to be fun trying to win.”