One of golf’s most colorful characters is back in the spotlight after two uncharacteristically unsuccessful
Former U. of Georgia golfer Bubba Watson ended a two-year slump with a victory Sunday in the Los
Angeles Open, his third win in the event the last five years and the 10 th of his PGA Tour career.
Watson, 39, has been one of the PGA Tour’s top players since his second season in 2007, but the last
two years have been a puzzling struggle for the long-hitting lefthander since he won in LA in 2016 and
placed second in his next start in a World Golf Championship event at Doral.
After nearly winning consecutive starts, Watson all but disappeared from PGA Tour leader boards for
the next two years. His only top 10 the remainder of 2016 was a tie for eighth in the 2016 Olympics, and
his best showing last year was a tie for fifth in the Memorial.
After five top-10 finishes in the FedExCup standings during a 6-year stretch from 2010-15 and a solid
finish of 24 th in 2016 after his sizzling start, Watson plummeted outside the top 100 last year, failing to
make it past the first event of the Playoffs.
After an equipment change following his lackluster 2017 showing, things did not improve much for
Watson at the outset of the 2017-18 season. He did not place higher than 35 th in his first five starts of
this season, and came into last week’s LA Open a dismal 166 th on the FedExCup points list.
But after four superb days of play, Watson is once again one of golf’s marquee players after a third
victory in five years in the shadow of famed HOLLYWOOD sign.
In addition to ending his two-year winless drought, Watson has put his name back in the hat of favorites
for the 2018 Masters, an event he has won twice, most recently in 2014 following the first of his three
victories in LA.
Watson broke away from a crowded leader board at Riviera CC on the back nine Sunday, playing his final
nine holes in 3-under to finish two shots in front of his closest pursuers. Watson had a one-stroke lead
heading to the final round and protected it with a 2-under 69, finishing with a winning total of 12-under
“My goal has always been to get 10 wins,” Watson said after his victory Sunday. “You never know if
you’re going to play good again. You never know if you’re going to lift the trophy.”
With the win, Watson improved from 166 to 18 in the FedExCup standings and moved up to 40 th from
106 in the Official World Golf Rankings. That qualifies him for both the WGC event next week in Mexico and the upcoming March Play Championship, neither of which he would have been eligible for without
Until his two years in the golf wilderness, Watson had never endured anything close to a prolonged
slump since qualifying in 2003 for the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour. Although he did not win in his
three seasons on that tour, he improved from 63 to 37 to 21 on the money list, barely qualifying for the
2006 PGA Tour thanks to three Web.com wins in ’05 by Jason Gore that earned him a spot on the PGA
Tour that season and increased the number of qualifiers from 20 to 21.
Watson easily retained his playing privileges after his rookie season, placing 90 th on the money list with
just over $1 million, and finished among the top 60 on the points list each of the next three seasons
without a victory.
After going winless for his first 4 ½ seasons on the PGA Tour, Watson broke through with a win in 2010
in Hartford, one of three tournaments he has won multiple times. He nearly captured his first major title
shortly after his triumph in Hartford, but lost a playoff to Martin Kaymer in the PGA Championship.
Watson ended the 2010 season eighth in the final FedExCup standings and repeated that finish in 2011,
winning in San Diego and New Orleans. He collected his first Masters green jacket in memorable fashion
in 2012, hitting a miraculous recovery shot from deep in the woods on the 10 th hole at Augusta National
to end a sudden death playoff after just one hole.
Although he did not win again in 2012 after his week to remember in Augusta, Watson played well the
rest of the year, ending the regular season fifth on the points list. After a respectable but winless 2013
(38 in the FedExCup standings), Watson was fully recovered from his post-Masters letdown at the outset
of the 2014 season, with first win in LA setting the table for his second Masters title. He outdueled
Jordan Spieth on Sunday to claim a second green jacket.
Watson ended the season third on the points list and repeated that finish in 2014, winning a WGC event
in China along with a second victory in Hartford and five other top-3 showings, two of them in other
World Golf Championships.
But after his strong start to the 2015-16 season, Watson was rarely heard from for the next two years
until his recent revival in Los Angeles.
Watson birdied three of his last four holes to open with a 68 at Riviera, and managed a 70 the next day
in a rollercoaster round that included five birdies in 6-hole stretch followed by a difficult finish in which
he played his last five holes in three over.
Thanks to a 5-under 30 on the opening nine Saturday, highlighted by an eagle on the first hole, Watson
shot 65 to take the lead after 54 holes. He was a little shaky on the front nine Sunday with two birdies
and three bogeys, but remained at the top of a jam-packed leader board.
Watson got up-and- down from a greenside bunker on the par-5 11 th for his first birdie on the back nine,
and wrested control of the tournament when he holed a bunker shot for birdie on the par-4 13 th . He
locked up his victory with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17 th .
While many of Riviera’s champions have been big hitters like Bubba, the list of LA Open winners also
includes the likes of Steve Stricker, Mike Weir, Billy Mayfair, Nick Faldo, Corey Pavin and Tom Kite.
Watson has been one of golf’s most celebrated bombers since early in his professional career. He led the
Nationwide Tour in driving distance in 2005, averaging 334 yards on measured tee shots, the second
longest performance in tour history.
He led the PGA Tour in driving distance in each of his first three season with averages between 315 and
320 yards, and has been first in distance twice since (2012 and ’14), and second four times, most
recently in 2015. He has averaged at least 310 yards in 10 of his 12 seasons on the PGA Tour, and is back
over the 310 mark this year after a “puny” average of 306 yards left him 20 th in the distance category last
Watson is one of eight former UGA golfers playing the PGA Tour this season, but unlike most of his
fellow ex-Bulldogs, he did not have an especially distinguished playing career during his time in Athens.
After playing at the junior college level, Watson arrived in Athens in 1999 as a junior, and had a
successful first season with the Bulldogs, earning honorable mention All-America status and winning the
annual Chris Schenkel tournament hosted by Georgia Southern.
Watson’s senior season was considerably less impactful, as he never cracked the starting lineup for any
of the team’s 13 tournaments. The only event he played in was the Schenkel, in which he competed as
an individual in his title defense.
The same five players comprised Georgia’s lineup in every match, and the Bulldogs enjoyed one of their
best ever seasons, winning six tournaments including the SEC Championship, and finishing fifth in the
NCAAs. All five were either first, second or third team All-American.
Of those five, only Erik Compton made it to the PGA Tour. Watson spent his senior season preparing for
his future professional career, while also beginning a relationship with a member of the UGA women’s
The two have since married, and Bubba, a native of northwest Florida, has re-established his ties to UGA
after spending his senior season in coach Chris Haack’s dog house. He earned his degree in 2008, seven
years after he departed Athens with mixed feelings about his two years there.