Bubba 'passes' the test at Riviera
February 21, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Bubba Watson earned his ninth PGA TOUR victory on Sunday at Riviera. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Several years ago when Bubba Watson was playing in New Orleans – perhaps 2010, although he couldn’t remember the specific year – he felt the urge. So he took a bathroom break with three holes left in his round. What happened next? Well, let Bubba tell you.
“The nicest way of saying it is, red liquid came out.”
Feel free to cringe now.
After finishing his round, he flew back and saw a doctor. He was told it was a kidney stone. He was also told it wasn’t the only one, that eventually another would need to be passed.
Last Monday, to be exact.
Having experienced the same symptoms during a Sunday morning bathroom break a week ago in Pebble Beach – he had missed the cut and was playing with his kids – Watson saw a doctor in Los Angeles once he arrived for this week’s Northern Trust Open. The kidney stone was passed on Monday – “My baby came out, I guess,” he said – and thus, one of the most eventful and event-filled weeks of his career had began.
It was a week in which he made an appearance on the TV show, "Girl Meets World"; he had one line and delivered it flawlessly. A week in which his son 3-year-old Caleb played drums with Justin Bieber. A week in which he attended the Warriors-Clippers basketball game, watching two of his favorite NBA teams and hanging out with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.
On Sunday morning, just 15 minutes before teeing off, Watson got a text from Warriors star Steph Curry, who wondered if he could give young Caleb some shooting lessons. You got that text too, right?
Five hours later, the week ended with Watson making two late birdies to claim his second Northern Trust Open against a host of contenders with either big names or big ambitions. He then bounded up the steps from the 18th green to the Riviera clubhouse, saw his wife Angie and daughter Dakota, and gave them a big hug, sobbing in their arms.
In Bubba Watson’s world, emotions are worn on the sleeve, honesty is delivered at all times, and life is lived to the fullest, usually in the fast lane. And to think, it all started with a kidney stone.
“I’m already a head case,” he said, “so my thoughts of seeing red liquids coming out, I thought I was dying without pain.”
The real pain came from another place, the boos he heard in Phoenix a few weeks ago when comments he made about the course were misconstrued about the tournament. He apologized for it, knowing that what he means isn’t always reflected in how he says it.
But he acknowledged the mental stress of the week, and it carried over to his play in Pebble Beach, when he tied for 70th and missed the 54-hole cut with celebrity amateur Mark Wahlberg, who just happens to be a member at Riviera.
“The emotional ride I had in Phoenix, that’s what I put Pebble as,” Watson said.
Oh, and one other thing: "Bad putting.”
There was no bad putting at Riviera, as he finished 11th in the field in strokes gained: putting. When he rolled in a nine-footer to save par at the 10th, then a 29-footer for birdie at the par-5 11th, he jump-started what had been a fairly listless round.
He still had to catch Jason Kokrak, a bomb-and-gouger cut from the Watson mold who was seeking his first TOUR win. For the last two mornings in player dining, Watson just happened to sit down near Kokrak’s wife, Stephanie. On Sunday, Watson, Stephanie and Chez Reavie’s wife Amanda discussed bull riding, which was on TV at the time.
Stephanie then told Watson – who acknowledged he wasn’t exactly sure how to correctly pronounce Kokrak’s last name – that Jason was a big animal lover and that they were anxious to see their dogs. So that’s what Bubba and Jason discussed for most of the final round.
Kokrak had a two-shot lead going into 15, but suffered a bogey, and then watched Watson pass him with two short birdie putts at 16 and 17 to reach 15 under.
Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson failed to make a substantial charge and Rory McIlroy drifted off the front page of the leaderboard. Adam Scott did birdie his last two and was hoping for a playoff at 14 under. Watching the proceedings on a TV in the interview area, he knew his day was done when Watson delivered his approach to within 13 feet for an easy two-putt par.
“He’s wearing the course out on the toughest day,” Scott said a few minutes later. “I think he’s hit 15 greens today. Very tough to beat that when you have a couple shots to make up.”
Watson’s becoming very tough to beat in any situation. Sunday’s win moves him to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking and 11th in the FedExCup race. He’s now won three TOUR events in the past 16 months, and that doesn’t include the Hero World Challenge against a tough field.
Watson has often spoken about 10 TOUR wins being a goal in his career. He now has nine, and no one would be surprised if the 10th came in two months at the Masters, which he’s won twice. If that happens, he’ll need to adjust that goal.
“We won’t go another 10, but we would bump it up a few," he said. "But I can’t bump it up until I get there.”
Just how he gets there will be the key. For all his raw talent, Watson will be the first to acknowledge his issues, his fears. He mentioned a few Sunday night. People yelling at him. People touching him. Shirts not fitting right.
“I don’t like change,” Watson said. “I don’t know what it is.”
But he works hard on being a better human, just as he certainly works hard on his craft. The fruits of those labors are paying off now. He just passed his good buddy Rickie Fowler in the world standings. He’ll have bragging rights for at least a week.
Now he has another trophy to display at home, winning his second title in three years on a legendary course against some of the world’s best players. The momentum for another Masters run is on full blast.
To think just a week ago, he was playing with his kids when he felt the urge to . . . well, no need to go into those details again. Let’s just say he passed all the tests this week.
Bubba Watson's news conference after winning the Northern Trust Open