In 2014, I was hosting PGA Tour Radio’s coverage of the Northern Trust Open. Bubba Watson made the cut by two shots, entered the weekend eight shots back, shot 64-64 on Saturday and Sunday and won the tournament with a surgical dissection of Riviera Country Club. It was Bubba at his most brilliant.
Carving shots left, right, low and high. At his best, no golfer is more creative or freakish to watch.
The Monday after, I said that Bubba would win his second Masters in two months. He did. We all make predictions and most go wrong. It was the only prediction I can remember making in golf where I would have risked my mortgage.
I took that prediction a step further. From that point on, I said, if Bubba shows me any semblance of form, I will pick him to win the Masters every year until he turns 50. Guess what? Bubba is in form. You can take your chalk, your Jason Day, your Rory McIlroy, your Adam Scott. I want Bubba. There is no debate. Here’s why:
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Form: Golf is so good right now, and the best are winning so often, that we forget greatness week-to-week based on results. Day is the hottest golfer on the planet, supplanting Scott, who only got to experience the same title for his own two-week bender. Do we even remember Bubba winning at Riviera back in February? Or finishing runner-up to Scott at Doral? I do.
I know what you’re thinking. Bubba was second in the world (his highest ranking ever) and coming off three top-10s a year ago and barely made the cut at Augusta. True, but he hadn’t won. Winning validates Bubba. It centers him. He’s won this year and is floating right below the conscious conversation. Beware.
The Year: Bubba won his first Masters in 2012, second in 2014, and now it's 2016. Are you sensing a pattern? This is more than just a coincidence. It is not easy being a reigning champion at any major, especially the Masters. There are media responsibilities, appearances, menus to plan, dinners to host. All of these (welcome) distractions are just enough to rattle the cage of preparation. This year, Bubba can quietly enjoy some of Jordan Spieth’s barbecue, anonymously watch the ceremonial tee shots and exist in his own, controlled bubble, free of
several of the distractions that led to T-50 and T-38 finishes in his two title defense years.
The Course: No course is better suited for Bubba’s game than Augusta National. It requires length to score, creativity on shots around the green and an active mind. Being able to hit the ball right-to-left off the tee is a must as well, which is why left-handed golfers (see: Mickelson, Phil) have a great advantage. While Bubba can work his driver any direction, being able to bomb a fade on signature holes like 2, 10, 13 and others gives him an added bonus on the field. In 2014, Bubba hit 71 percent (40) of his fairways, which was T-13 for the week. If he can top 40 fairways hit this year, or any year, the field is playing catch up.
Around the greens, Bubba’s ability to spin the ball and his incredible hands are two traits often overlooked. Tight lies don’t scare him, but rather empower his ability to be creative. The second cut at Augusta isn’t a benefit off the tee for Bubba as much as it is around the green. He can’t get a bad lie, which can often unravel his psyche. The pristine shape of the grounds benefits Bubba more than anybody.
The History: No modern player won two Masters in fewer attempts than Bubba. Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods both did it in six tries, same as Bubba. If he were to win this year, Bubba would be behind only Woods for quickest to three titles, tying him with Jack Nicklaus and Palmer. While Bubba’s record doesn’t include amateur appearances like some of the greats, simply getting to play is experience, and his name is alongside the legends of the game in terms of conquering the Masters so quickly.
The Atmosphere: No golf tournament in the world is as sheltered for the players as the Masters. The fairways are wide, the spectators are often distant and the traffic inside the ropes is as sparse as the treets of Bagdad, Fla. It may be the one tournament where Bubba can walk without the fear of a camera click. The conversations with caddie Ted Scott are uninterrupted and rarely eavesdropped. For one week all year, Bubba feels his most comfortable on a golf course.
There is no doubt. Bubba will win the Masters for a third time this year. Now, off to withdraw that mortgage payment.