Augusta National, I understand.
Alister Mackenzie and Bobby Jones designed those famed fairways to have some width. They didn’t force players to walk single file from tee to green. They stressed the importance of approaching the hole location from the proper angle, but also gave players space to be creative with their strategy.
So it makes sense that Bubba Watson has won two of the past four Masters. Augusta National gives Watson room to paint his abstract art.
Riviera Country Club, on the other hand, is a U.S. Open site with a nickname that implies constraint: Hogan’s Alley. You’re talking about probably the most precise ballstriker in the game’s history, one who developed a dependable fade because he abhorred seeing the ball move right-to-left, and the narrow space between two buildings.
But Watson has now won at Riviera twice in the past three years with a game that is the anti-Hogan. Hogan took the straightest route from point A to point B. He was known as a stern man who dressed plainly and spoke rarely.
Watson, on the other hand, publicly displays the full spectrum of emotions and needs to bend the ball like Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Fortunately for Watson, there’s enough room between Riviera’s eucalyptus and gum trees for Watson to sling curveballs around the George C. Thomas design. (side note: Riviera week brings some of the best words of the year. Kikuyu. Barranca. Palisades).
“You could hit shots around here,” Watson said. “You can use your imagination. I hit some big hooks. I hit some big slices, and it worked out.”
Watson torched the place for 64-64 on the weekend in 2014, and then took advantage of a Riviera that was softened by rain to win this year. He did it by playing a game that Hogan would not recognize, but one that we’ve become accustomed to.
He hit just half his fairways this week, but was in the top 10 in both greens in regulation and proximity to the hole. His success at Hogan’s Alley comes despite a game that, unlike Hogan, doesn’t translate well to the U.S. Open. Hogan won that tournament four times, including the 1948 edition at Riviera. Watson has missed more than half his cuts (5 of 9) in that event, and his only top-15 was a T5 in 2007 at Oakmont, site of this year’s tournament.
Riviera will always be Hogan’s Alley, as it should be. Bubba’s Barranca also has a ring to it, though.
TOP 5 MICROSOFT INSIGHTS
1. Watson was fifth in strokes gained: tee-to-green last week (+2.4 per round). It was the 34th time he’s ranked in the top five in strokes gained: tee-to-green since 2007, tied with Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk for the most on TOUR in that span.
2. Watson was one of four players who went the entire week without missing a putt inside 5 feet (55 for 55). He also was one of eight players who went the entire week without recording a 3-putt.
3. Watson hit just 2 of 14 fairways in the second round, but still managed to shoot 68. His driving improved drastically over the weekend, though. He hit 19 of 28 fairways, shooting 67-68 for a one-shot victory. He hit just half the fairways (28 of 56) last week.
4. Watson may have missed a lot of fairways, but he hit a lot of greens and hit it close. He was seventh in greens in regulation (51 of 72) and sixth in proximity to the hole (32 feet, 6 inches).
5. Only Rory McIlroy (11 wins) has more PGA TOUR victories since the start of 2010 than Watson. Watson has now won in six of the past seven seasons, and won nine titles in that span. His only winless season since he won his first title at the 2010 Travelers Championship was 2013. He has three multiple wins seasons (2011, 2013-14, 2014-15).
TOP 3 VIDEOS OF THE WEEK
1. Bubba Watson received a text message from NBA MVP Steph Curry before the final round of the Northern Trust Open. Watson’s daughter Dakota took a page from the book of Riley Curry, Steph’s daughter, after daddy won at Riviera.
Bubba Watson's daughter adorably crashes his interview. https://t.co/osAsMRurUw— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 22, 2016
2. Riviera is one of the TOUR’s most historic sites. As part of the celebration of the Northern Trust Open’s 90th anniversary, players teed off with old clubs during the practice rounds. See how they fared when given persimmon heads instead of their oversized titanium clubs.
PGA TOUR players hit vintage clubs at Northern Trust Open
3. Here’s one way to two-putt.
Justin Leonard's non-traditional two-putt at Northern Trust
1. Sung Kang’s new caddie is paying off. With Jim Furyk on the disabled list, Kang had Furyk’s usual caddie, Fluff Cowan, on the bag the past two weeks. It’s been a fruitful fortnight. Kang shot an 11-under 60 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (he could have shot 59 with a birdie at his final hole). He started the final round at Pebble Beach in third place, but a final-round 77 dropped him to 17th. A top-10 finish would have earned him a spot in the Northern Trust Open. No problem. Kang had a mulligan in the form of the following day’s Monday qualifier, and he successfully earned a spot at Riviera. He finished eighth in the Northern Trust Open, his first top-10 of the season. He is 103rd in the FedExCup.
2. Adam Scott’s runner-up at Riviera was his second in four starts this season. He also finished second in the CIMB Classic. Scott may have missed some short putts down the stretch, but he did rank 15th last week in strokes gained: putting. Scott has finished in the top 10 in six of his past eight worldwide starts, including three runners-up.
3. Cheng Jin, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, has made three consecutive cuts in pro events as he prepares for the Masters Tournament. He finished T54 at the Maybank Championship, which is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and Asian Tour. It was his third consecutive made cut in a pro event, preceded by a T35 at the Qatar Masters and T11 at the Thailand Golf Championship. That’s not his best finish in a pro event, though. He won on PGA TOUR China in November 2014.
4. Beau Hossler’s impressive college season continues. He finished in a four-way tie for first Friday at the John Burns Intercollegiate (no playoff was held). It was Hossler’s third win in four starts this season. Hossler, who contended at the 2012 U.S. Open while still in high school, is the top-ranked player in college golf. Hossler competed earlier in the week at the Northern Trust Open Collegiate Showcase, but failed to earn the one spot available in the PGA TOUR event. Charlie Danielson, a member of the top-ranked Illinois squad, shot 68 at Riviera on Feb. 15 to win the showcase. He opened the Northern Trust Open with a 4-under 67 that had him in fifth place. He closed with rounds of 72-73-77 to finish 72nd, though.