After winning four tournaments in an almost two-year span from 2010 to 2012, Bubba Watson went nearly two years before scoring his fifth PGA Tour victory.
Watson, winless since the 2012 Masters, ended that skid with an impressive triumph in the Los Angeles Open, carding back-to-back 64s on the classic layout at Riviera County Club to edge Dustin Johnson by two strokes.
Over the final two rounds, Watson recorded 14 birdies against no bogeys, finishing with a 15-under 269 total.
Watson’s victory came two weeks after he let a potential victory slip away in Phoenix. He held the lead going to the fourth round, but bogeyed two of the final three holes to shoot even par after a pair of early birdies had him in early control that day.
In his LA victory, Watson began the final round four shots off the lead, But with all three players in the final group failing to break par, he took the lead midway through the round and held on, clinching his win with a birdie on the 18th hole.
Watson scored his first PGA Tour victory in Hartford in 2010, midway through his fifth season on the tour. He added wins in San Diego and New Orleans in 2011 before capturing the Masters in dramatic fashion in 2012, defeating Louis Oosthuizen on the first playoff hole thanks to his amazing wedge shot from the tees on the 10th hole at Augusta National.
Although Watson has played respectably since his victory in Augusta, he had rarely contended until his recent showing in Phoenix. Watson’s only near misses came in Hartford, where he finished 2nd by a shot in 2012 despite a final round 65, and was two behind the winner last year, playing a forgettable final round.
Watson struggled on the weekend through the entire 2013 season, but that has not been a serious problem this season, other than his so-so final round showing in Phoenix. His closing 64s gave Watson the low score in each of the final two rounds at Riviera.
With his title in LA, Watson becomes the third ex-Georgia Bulldog to win on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, joining Chris Kirk and Harris English. Adding victories by St. Simons Island resident Zach Johnson and recent Augusta State golfer Patrick Reed, players with Georgia ties have won five of the first 13 events on the new wraparound schedule.
Watson moved up to 5th in the FedExCup standings behind English (third) and Kirk (fourth). Zach Johnson is seventh and Reed is 10th heading into the Match Play Championship.
Georgians Charles Howell (15th), Jason Bohn (17th) and Brendon Todd (23rd) failed to qualify for the Match Play Championship despite all being in the top 25 in the standings.
Savannah’s Brian Harman moved up to 29th in the standings on the strength of his tie for third in LA, matching his best finish on the PGA Tour. Harman, in his third season on the tour, was in the 60s in all four rounds at Riviera and finished three shots behind Watson at 12-under.
It was Harman’s third top-10 finish of the 2013-14 season, including one at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons, where he has lived since concluding his college career at Georgia.
English picked up his fifth top 10 in nine 2013-14 starts, tying for 10th in LA, giving the Bulldogs three players in the top 10.
It was also a good week for two former Georgia Tech golfers. Bryce Molder tied for 6th the week after a top 10 finish at Pebble Beach. Cameron Tringale tied for 12th at Riviera, the third straight week he was either 12th or 13th. Tringale earned $374,000 for the three weeks without a top 10 finish.
Rookie Chesson Hadley, a recent Tech golfer, picked up his second top 10 of the season the week before at Pebble Beach, with fellow ex-Yellow Jacket Roberto Castro notching back-to-back top 20s at Phoenix and Pebble Beach.