From clown prince to crown prince, Bubba keeps believing

January 30, 2011
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of COrrespondents

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Bubba Watson has "issues." His words, not ours.

Fourth-round coverage
PHIL THE THRILL: Phil Mickelson was forced to lay up on the final hole Sunday, but he's excited about his prospects this season. Story
GOING LOW: Nick Watney, the 2009 winner at Torrey Pines, shot 63 Sunday with a blistering 8-under 28 on his first nine holes. Story
NOT THERE YET: Tiger Woods followed one over-par round with another on Sunday, failing to take advantage of a course he has dominated so many times. Story

But on Sunday during the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, the PGA TOUR's lovable clown prince transformed into a crown prince and made the Farmers Insurance Open the second win of his career.

Watson harnessed all those random thoughts racing around in his head and played with a sense of calm and purpose that enabled him to hold off some of the best players in the game, including hometown favorite Phil Mickelson. The victory was his second in a six-month span that also saw him reach a playoff at the PGA Championship and make his first Ryder Cup team.

At the Travelers Championship in June, though, Watson made up six-shot deficit on Sunday and won in a playoff. On Sunday, he seized the lead on the third hole and never looked back, firing a 67 that included a clutch 10-footer for par at the 17th hole and an up-and-down birdie from the greenside bunker at No. 18 that left Mickelson one shot in arrears.

"I worked this winter on my mind to be more focused," Watson said. "To be worried about what I'm doing and not what everybody else is doing. ... It was just focus on what I had to do. So it just shows that I can do it. I did it twice now. I'm only like 50 (wins) behind Phil and 80 behind Tiger, so they better watch out."

The first win is always hard, particularly when your heart is heavy as Watson's was with his father waging a losing battle with lung cancer last year. Most players, though, say the second is even more difficult, and the way the 32-year-old handled the pressure Sunday showed an evolving maturity that impressed his peers.

"I just got outplayed by Bubba who shot really a wonderful round of golf," Mickelson said. "A lot of pressure being in the second to last group, and tough conditions. He played an incredible round to shoot 67."

Former Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger went so far as to tweet that he thought Watson had "gone to another place mentally. He has never really had a formal lesson, yet performs at highest level. It's an intangible thats hard to define. It's fun to watch raw unpolished talent excel."

Watson's wife, Angie, saw a calmness in her husband on Sunday that was different than the way he handled himself at TPC River Highlands in June. At the same time, though, his success in San Diego probably could be directly traced to the trust he gained in his abilities as he beat Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin in that playoff.

"We had a lot on our plate at that point in the season," Angie said as she thought back to the win in Hartford. "He just had that kind of go-for-it feeling today. That it didn't matter to him what happened. He was going to go down fighting. So I think there was a look of extra confidence."

Watson still sees himself as "goofy Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida, that hits a ball every once in a while with a pink shaft real far." And despite the fact that Rickie Fowler is one of his good friends and Twitter buddies, Watson doesn't consider himself as a "rock star," either.

As much of a challenge as Mickelson and Vegas, among others, presented on Sunday, though, sometimes Waston's biggest battle is within himself. His words tumble out willy-nilly and to say he's he's a tad hyper-active would probably be an understatement. Watson said he's never been tested to see whether he has attention deficit disorder "but we're just guessing, I probably do."

That said, he's great at focusing for the 30 seconds or so while he's actually hitting one of those booming drives or delicate chips. But over the course of 18 holes and five hours, Watson can be hard-pressed to maintain his focus, which is why Sunday's performance was so impressive.

"I've got to keep my head down because I tend to wander around," Watson said. "My mind, I'm looking at people flying around in kites. I'm looking at how beautiful the water is. I'm scared of heights, so I'm looking at the cliffs. So I'm looking at stuff I shouldn't be looking at while I'm trying to play golf.

"So my caddy's like, get focused. We're playing golf still. I learned that it's going to be hard for me, but I'm trying to do it on my own. So far it's working."

Prayers help the devout Christian. So does talking to himself. He's not praying for shots to settle close to the pin, though. Watson just wants to execute to the best of his ability, and as long as that happens, he won't beat himself up over the occasional bad shot or errant drive.

Not that there were many on Sunday, of course. Watson has now played 12 rounds this season and has yet to shoot over par, although it was only at Torrey Pines this week that the putts started to fall. He'll head to Scottsdale for next week's Waste Management Phoenix Open trying to build on that momentum, too.

But can he be a top-five player in the world? Are there major championships in Watson's future? What about following his Ryder Cup debut with a berth on the Presidents Cup team that plays in November in Australia?

"I believe I can do it," Watson said. "I truly believe it. But it's calming myself down inside the ropes. Now inside the ropes, do I believe it? That will be a different story. And right now I do.

"I believed it, but haven't really executed the way I want to. I get down. So if I can just stay up and not be down on my self all the time, yes, I believe I can get there."

So does Angie. She's always believed in him, but after seeing seeing his performance at Torrey Pines she knows that 2011 could be a really big year.

"You'd certainly feel that way after watching his composure today," Angie said. "To be able to play that way in a PGA TOUR event, but also to play that way with a field like this with one of the best players of all time hot on your heels, shot for shot. To step up and hit the shots and the putts that he did, shot after shot, hole after hole,

"So to answer you question, you would expect big things from here on out because he played so great. If he continues to play that way, the sky's the limit."