Confident Bubba Watson plots more Augusta glory

With two wins already this season, the two-time Masters champion is a Major contender again

Traditions can happen quickly in these parts; and, on Sunday, Bubba Watson – his green jacket, looking slightly large around the shoulders – watched on as children from across the United States drove the ball, chipped and putted at Augusta National.

It’s now very much an integral part of the build-up to the Masters, a recognition that golf’s health, like all sport, is reliant on new blood. Already, a tradition.

Watson was a picture of contentment, his arms folded and smiling, as he watched the skills of the pre-teens and teens; his demeanour a stark contrast to a year ago, when the body language betrayed an uneasiness with his game that was reflected in a missed cut.

The man who had won in 2012 and again in 2014 didn't even have a bit part to play over the weekend, as the drama unfolded and Sergio Garcia outlasted Justin Rose.

As they say, all has changed utterly since then. Watson has regained his artistic merit, his ability to paint shots onto the golfing landscape; to brush strokes like no-one else. From a point where he considered giving up the game (we have to take his word on that one!), he has returned to a favoured place with a sense of purpose.

“My life’s in a great spot. Golf sometimes makes it in a bad spot, but I’m just in a right frame of mind and I understand what I want to do with my life and where I want to go in my life,” said Watson of how things have turned; family life, with two young children, playing a big role in breathing new vigour into a golf game that, so far this season, has fashioned wins in the Genesis Open and the WGC Dell Match Play.

“Golf is really easy when you free it up. It’s very difficult when you’re not thinking properly,” as he put it.

And for much of last year, a wasted season in so many ways, Watson's mind wasn't focused. But he's turned it around, putting much of the credit on the influence of those around him. His wife. His management company. His caddie, that relationship with Ted Scott – together for the guts of 12 years – coming in for special mention from Watson.

“It’s not just a caddie relationship, it’s a real friendship.”

Together they’ve won two Masters titles, mapping out a route to the Butler Cabin of a Sunday evening. And where Watson’s form last season didn’t even have him on anyone’s radar – “last year, nobody probably mentioned my name” – there is a change, this time he is included in everyone’s calculations for a tournament that has so many in-form players coming into the season’s first Major with genuine expectation.

Green jacket

And that’s the way Watson would want it.

“We don’t want an asterisk by it and say everybody played bad so you just won. We want everybody to play their best . . . . the story lines are amazing. There’s so many people that are playing well right now. It’s a challenge, and we all know that everybody else is playing well, so we got to be on top of our game to force the Sunday charge to put on a green jacket.

“I’m hoping everybody gets attention and I just kind of sneak through the back nine roars there and somehow pull out a victory.”

Watson, it would seem, has matured too. He's talked to older players, picked their minds. Steve Stricker. Jim Furyk.

“The difference this time around is energy. I asked a few people, older gentlemen in our golfing lives, what do you need to work on and really recovery, how does your body recover from a stressful day that you might have pulled out an even par or you might pull out an under par round. How do you recover from that? Because mentally, physically you’re going to be exhausted. So how do you recover from that before the next round; so you got to figure out ways to do that.

“You’ve got to be mentally prepared. The mental part of it is what drains you around this place. So you’ve got to be mentally prepared and focused on every shot and committed to what you see and what you want to do,” said Watson, who has opted to limit his preparations to playing nine holes a day.

Quite clearly, Watson is in a good place. Personally, and golf-wise. The results speak for themselves in so many ways; and if there is any added pressure, it is not obvious. Certainly not to Watson.

“The pressure? There’s no pressure on me. There’s no pressure on any of us. The only pressure is what we put on ourselves. It’s how you go about it. You can let it get to you, you can be thinking about it, but, again, if you prepare the right way, the way we can and we know we can, our bodies feel the way we want it to feel in all those situations, we can play good golf.”

What a difference a year can make, for sure.

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