AUGUSTA, Georgia - Part Seve Ballesteros and part John Daly, newly crowned Masters champion Bubba Watson is a gifted shot-maker and genuine crowd pleaser who plays with extraordinary passion.
Like the late Spanish matador Ballesteros, Watson likes nothing more than to take on shots that most other players could never envisage. Sometimes they do not come off; often they do in breath-taking fashion.
And like the big-hitting Daly, the prodigious driving Watson is a firm fan favourite who wears his heart on his sleeve with his exciting brand of golf. He has the common touch and is not afraid to engage with the galleries.
Slim but loose-limbed, Watson has long been regarded by his peers as an extraordinary natural talent.
Following his emotional playoff victory over Louis Oosthuizen at the Masters on Sunday, he is now likely to make a much wider impact on the game because of his attacking approach and astonishing creativity.
“I just play golf. I attack. I always attack,” Watson said after edging out South African Oosthuizen at the second extra hole where he conjured a miraculous hook shot from pine straw with a gap wedge from 155 yards.
“I don’t like to go to the centre of the greens. I want to hit the incredible shot. Who doesn’t? That’s why we play the game of golf, to pull off the amazing shot.”
Watson’s shot with from the pine trees on Sunday certainly amazed as it curved 40 yards from left to right before the ball settled on the green 10 feet from the pin. That set up a two-putt par for the American, and was good enough to beat Oosthuizen’s bogey for the title.
While most of the top players rely heavily on coaches, Watson is self-taught and learned to play the game as a youngster by hitting wiffle balls around his house, swiftly developing the ability to cut and hook the ball at will.
“I definitely can’t hit it dead straight. I like to move it every shot just because I feel more comfortable doing that,” Watson told Reuters.
“Hitting big hooks and big cuts with irons, that’s something I can do naturally. And I hit it in the trees a lot, so I know how to get out of trees pretty good,” he added with a smile.
Watson, who is best known for his power hitting with a distinctive pink-shafted driver and regularly blasts the ball over 310 yards, has stunned fellow players with remarkable shots.
Former world number Tiger Woods vividly remembers watching him cut a one-iron over trees and on to the green from around 320 yards at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan.
“We see him two groups ahead of us and we have a big logjam and he pulled out iron,” 14-times major winner Woods, himself a prodigious hitter, recalled. “We heard he’s long, but come on.
“All of a sudden you hear this huge roar. He pumped it on the green. I don’t have that shot. If I hit a good three-wood, I’ll probably fly it in the front bunker or bounce it in the front bunker. Yeah, he’s long.”
Having now won his first major title, Watson will certainly be monitored much more closely by fans who were previously unaware of his enormous talents.
Asked how much higher his golfing horizons now stretched, Watson replied with a grin: “Major champion, think I’m done, right? I mean, can’t do any better than this.
“That’s the best part about history. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know the future. Hopefully I keep crying. Hopefully I keep having the passion to play golf and keep doing what I’m doing.”
THIS WEEK IN GOLF
PGA TOUR - RBC HERITAGE
COURSE: Harbour Town Golf Links (7,101 yards, par 71).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m., 9:30-11:30 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday-Sunday, 3-6 p.m.).
OH CANADA: Graham DeLaet, David Hearn, Stephen Ames, Mike Weir
NOTES: The top-ranked Donald comes into the event off a 32nd-place tie in the Masters. He lost last year's tournament to Brandt Snedeker on the third playoff hole. ...Snedeker won a playoff at Torrey Pines earlier this year for his third PGA Tour title. ...Jim Furyk won the 2010 event on the first playoff hole after Brian Davis called a two-stroke penalty on himself for moving a loose impediment in a hazard during his backswing. ... In 2009, Brian Gay finished with a 64 for a tournament-record 10-stroke victory. Gay also broke the event scoring record, finishing at 20-under 264. ... Boo Weekley won in 2007 and 2008. ... Five-time champion Davis Love III has withdrawn due to a cracked rib suffered last month. Love has played in tournament 26 straight seasons and is the event's leading money-winner with more than $2.6 million made at Harbour Town Golf Links.
EUROPEAN TOUR - MALAYSIAN OPEN
COURSE: Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, West Course (7,000 yards, par 72).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.).
OH CANADA: Rick Gibson (regional Order of Merit), Andrew Parr (top-10 result in previous European Tour event)
NOTES: Defending champion Matteo Manassero won is in the field along with Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen, 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel and 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer.
CHAMPIONS TOUR - ENCOMPASS INSURANCE PRO-AM
COURSE: TPC Tampa Bay (6,828 yards, par 71).
TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sunday, midnight-2 a.m., 7-9:30 p.m.; Monday, 12:30-2:30 a.m.).
OH CANADA: Jim Rutledge, Rod Spittle
NOTES: Bernhard Langer won the 2010 tournament. He missed the event left year because of a left thumb injury. ... Kirk Triplett is making his first Champions Tour start. The three-time PGA Tour winner turned 50 on March 29. ...
NATIONWIDE TOUR - TPC STONEBRAE CHAMPIONSHIP
COURSE: TPC Stonebrae (7,100 yards, par 70).
OH CANADA: Stuart Anderson, Bryan DeCorso, Brad Fritsch, Adam Hadwin, Matt McQuillan, Ryan Yip
NOTES: NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice is in the field. Two years ago, in his professional golf debut, Rice shot 12-over 83 in the first round of this event. Last year, he carded rounds of 81-82 and missed the cut at 23-over par.
eGOLF PROFESSIONAL TOUR - The Championship at St. James Plantation
COURSE: Reserve Club, Founders Club, Southport, N.C.
OH CANADA: Brett Cairns, Cam Burke (2nd two weeks ago), Derek Gillespie, Matt Hill (T5 two weeks ago), Ryan Kennedy, Christopher Ross, David Markle, Zach Schnurr, Gavin Smith,
GATEWAY PRO TOUR
COURSE: Gold Course, Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa, Arizona
OH CANADA: Kent Eger, Corey Renfrew, Steven Shantz, Darren Wallace,