LOS ANGELES – Bubba Watson says he was contemplating retirement.
The two-time Masters champion had gone two years without winning. He fell out of the top 100 in the world ranking for the first time in 10 years. He was losing power and losing confidence, and didn’t matter which color golf ball he was using. Worst of all, he was losing weight from an illness he still doesn’t want to talk about.
About all he had were options.
“I have a car dealership, a candy store and a baseball team,” Watson said. “We had something to do.”
He wound up sticking to golf, as if that was never an option. One week at Riviera was a reminder that “Bubba Golf” remains a best seller.
Watson ended his longest drought of the decade – it was two full years since he last won a tournament – with a game perfectly suited for the classic layout off Sunset Boulevard. He shaped shots to the right and to the left, figured out how to make the right putts, holed a bunker shot and closed with a 2-under 69 for a two-shot victory in the Genesis Open that changes his outlook.
“The last year-and-a-half, almost two years give or take, it’s been a struggle because I want to be at the top,” Watson said. “I was top 10 in the world for a few years, and so not being there, you feel like, ‘Is this it? Is this my old man moment where I can’t play golf again?“’
When he won at Riviera for the second time in 2016, Watson was at No. 4 in the world. The following week, he finished one shot behind at the World Golf Championships event at Doral. Over his next 36 starts on the PGA Tour in stroke play, he had two top 10s.
Among the low points was the end of 2016, when he was No. 7 in the world and still didn’t make or was picked for the Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine. Watson still joined the American team as an assistant captain, and loved it so much that he has asked U.S. captain Jim Furyk for the same job in France this year.
He was pestering Furyk about it at Riviera and said the captain told him: “No. You’re too good. You need to be on the team playing.”
Next up for Watson is to see how far this goes.
He spoke Saturday evening, when he had a one-shot lead, about trending in the right direction even if he didn’t win the Genesis Open. The victory is sure to be a jolt of confidence, especially the way he won.
Eight players either had a share of the lead or were within one shot over the final round Sunday. Watson was one shot behind Patrick Cantlay heading to the back nine, which starts with his least favorite hole in golf: No. 10, regarded as one of the best short par 4s in the world. Watson is so befuddled by it that he considers it a par 5 and suggested his 4 felt like a birdie on Sunday.
He was just warming up.
Watson effectively won the tournament over the next four holes. He got up-and-down from a bunker by making a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 11th, which was critical because Cantlay had a 20-foot eagle putt. Cantlay missed, Watson made, keeping the deficit at one shot.
On the next two holes, Watson came up short of the green and both times saved par with 8-foot putts as his challengers were dropping shots. Kevin Na in the group ahead and Cantlay alongside him made bogey on both of them.
Suddenly staked to a one-shot lead, Watson found the left bunker on the par-3 14th to a left pin. He splashed out of the sand and the ball rolled into the pin and disappeared into the cup for an unlikely birdie.
“It went real fast where I went from losing to winning,” he said.
He was flawless from there: two-putt pars on the next two holes; a 349-yard drive on the par-5 17th; and a superb lag from 65 feet for a two-putt birdie. By then he just needed to keep the ball in play and stay on his feet. He finished with an 8-foot par putt.
Watson showed up at Riviera at No. 117 in the world. He left at No. 40, sending him to Mexico City for a World Golf Championship in two weeks, and keeping him in the top 64 to play in the Dell Technologies Match Play three weeks after Mexico.
Not to be overlooked is the Masters, where Watson is a two-time winner.
Was he really close to calling it quits?
“I was close,” he said. “My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. I would rather be healthy than play golf, so that’s what I was focusing on. I was focusing on the wrong things. ‘Pitiful me,’ not how beautiful my life was.”
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