Bubba Watson’s bump-and-run leads to birdie at WGC-Mexico
MEXICO CITY – Bubba Watson would seem to have the right sort of game for Club de Golf Chapultepec, but he’s never done particularly well at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. His best, in three starts here, is a T9 in 2018. Truth be told, he played better when the tournament was at Doral, with four top-three finishes.
After a winless 2019 in which he finished 81st in the FedExCup, Watson was off to a solid start in search of his 13th PGA TOUR victory after an opening-round 67, two off the early lead.
“I’ve been hitting the ball great all year after training,” said Watson, who finished T6 at the Farmers Insurance Open and T3 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “I’ve been working on getting fitter, getting stronger so I can hold positions and hit the shots I want to hit.”
No one wanted to talk about what’s behind his mini-revival, though. Instead, it was Watson’s casual round with singer Justin Bieber after missing the cut at the Genesis Invitational in L.A. The two played at Lakeside Golf Club with Ted Scott, Watson’s caddie, and three others, and Watson joked that Bieber is now his mental coach. (Watson has no mental coach.)
The other topic of conversation at Chapultepec has been Watson’s putting. He couldn’t buy one at The Genesis, but had 13 one-putts in the first round at Chapultepec, and on the often-tricky poa annua surfaces, no less. His 21 total putts in round one were a career low on TOUR.
But while putting comes and goes, and celebrity is its own thing altogether, Watson’s revival this season owes just as much if not more to his tee-to-green game.
“I know my ball-striking is where I want it to be,” he said. “My mind is where I want it to be and everything. Coming here, I was just hoping I’d get the right bounces and the right breaks. I know I can play around here if I stay committed to all the shots.”
Watson ranked No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green in 2015, and fourth in that stat in ’16.
Then things started to fall off: 74th in ’17, and 45th in ’18 even as he won three times and finished 10th in the FedExCup. He was 38th in SG: Tee-to-Green last season, which is far from terrible, but 167th in SG: Putting as he plummeted to 81st in the FedExCup.
Self-coached and mercurial, Watson has never been a paint-by-number type of guy. His rises and falls can be hard to predict, or explain. This season, though, it’s pretty easy: Watson’s stats are up in both putting (51st, despite an off-week at the Genesis) and ball-striking (13th). That’s a useful combination, one that has seen him regularly work his way back into contention again after two decidedly lackluster years (2017 and ’19) in the last three seasons.
“You know, it’s — life sometimes throws you curve balls,” he said.
Perhaps, though, not so much in the thin air at Chapultepec, where the ball doesn’t curve as much. The ball-striking is there. The putting may be catching up. Bubba Golf is on the rise again.