Out of Bounds: Bubba what’s gone wrong?
In his four starts this year a struggling Bubba Watson’s best finish is tied-25th in Hawaii
Bubba Watson of the United States during the third round of the World Golf Championships Mexico Championship last week. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
One question. What on earth has happened to Bubba Watson?
With the US Masters just around the corner, and the clock ticking down to its start in a month, this is a natural time to start looking at potential winners. Bubba, as a two-time champion, and on the horses for courses theory, should be among the likely lads for another crack at the green jacket. But he isn’t.
How could he be considered on current form?
For a player who missed just one cut on tour all last season, this 2017 campaign has been something of an eye-opener . . . . for all the wrong reasons.
In four starts this year, Watson’s best finish is tied-25th at the limited field Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Other than that, it’s been a blowout: a missed cut at the Phoenix Open (where he lives), a withdrawal (with no reason) from the Genesis Open (which he was defending) and a laboured tied-38th finish in Mexico, again a tournament with a limited field and no cut.
Bubba is different which, for golf, is good. There are too many lookalikes hitting a golf ball for a living.
He’s the one who does the unexpected, producing miracle shots when he shouldn’t have a prayer of recovery.
The audacity of Watson’s recovery shot from the trees down the right of the 10th hole en route to his first Masters win in 2012 is the stuff of legends, when - blocked out by trees on the second hole of sudden death against Louis Oosthuizen - he played a recovery shot with 40 yards of hook using his sand wedge off pine straw to find the green.
The following year, that spot was like a mecca to golf fans at Augusta as they ventured off into the wilderness to discover where he’d played the shot. Invariably, they left shaking their heads in bewilderment and admiration.
But now we’re shaking our heads wondering what’s gone wrong?
Watson is said to have lost over a stone in body weight since last year. This is not the first time he has been weight conscious. When he first arrived on tour in 2006, he tipped the scales at 15 stones. Nowadays, he is a much slimmer version and down to around 12 and a half stone which, for someone who is 6 feet 3 inches, you’d be inclined to cry “halt” and say enough is enough. You’re a golfer, not a clotheshorse.
But Bubba does things his way, always has. He bought the General Lee car used in the TV series, “The Dukes of Hazard.” He brought out a Christmas rap single. He claimed to have eaten burritos for ten days straight ahead of his first US Masters win. He doesn’t have a swing coach. Self-taught and self-made, an original of the species.
His latest move has been to move away from his deal to play Titleist golf balls. These days (and sure he’s getting well-paid for the endorsement), Watson is playing a Volvik, a ball previously used by Se Ri Pak. In case you have missed it, Watson’s golf ball of choice these days is pink . . . . and there is even talk he will play a green ball at the Masters.
Of switching to the little-known Asian golf ball manufacturer, Watson remarked: “If we’re going to challenge ourselves, let’s challenge ourselves to make something that’s really off the wall, that’s still playable.”
Yet, as he eyes up another tilt at the Masters, things are out of sync, even for him.
In terms of claiming a third career green jacket, the odds - increasingly - are against him. Since the turn of the Millennium when Vijay Singh won the 2000 Masters, one of the key components in claiming victory at Augusta National is form. Of the 17 champions in that time, all - bar four - have won either in the run-up to the Masters or late in the previous season.
As it happens, Watson is one of the quartet who defied those odds (the others were Singh in 2000, Zach Johnson in 2007 and Angel Cabrera in 2009 who all came from left field). In Watson’s case, his last victory prior to this 2012 success had come at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in May 2011, almost a 12 month gap. For his 2014 win, though, Watson had shown form with victory in the Los Angeles Open at Riviera in the February.
If Watson is to get back into the right frame of mind for a tilt at a third green jacket in a month’s time, he needs to get back to his “pure golf” and to find some form. He’s in the field for the Valspar this week. It’s time to get the act together.