Simpson gets rematch with Bubba at TPC Louisiana

April 25, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

AVONDALE, La. -- The way Bubba Watson sees it, the fact that he won the Masters earlier this month doesn't change anything as he tees it up at TPC Louisiana this week. Ditto for the fact that he also happens to be the defending champ of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Tee times
Tee times for Bubba Watson-Steve Stricker-Webb Simpson are below. Click here for all tee times.

"When we come to a golf tournament, it doesn't matter what you did the week before or the year before," Watson explained. "Everybody is trying to win. ... So it's not about being the hunted or being the huntee or anything like that. It's just about playing golf.

"If I go out there and play my game, I have a chance to win. If the other guys go out there and play their game and hit good shots, they have a chance to win. So we're not looking at that, we're just looking at trying to play good golf."

Watson will be playing the first two rounds with the man he beat in the playoff a year ago, Webb Simpson, and the ageless and steady Steve Stricker. They tee off No. 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET on Thursday and 1:30 p.m. ET off No. 1 on Friday.

The Zurich Classic is Watson's first tournament since his signature win at Augusta National. He's had a busy three weeks, too -- spending two days doing the rounds of national media outlets in New York City, playing in Tim Tebow's charity event and most importantly, bonding with Caleb, the son, now two months old, whom he and his wife Angie adopted 10 days before the Masters began.

"I have not had enough time with my family, by myself or anything, but I felt obligated to my fans, to New Orleans, the city, that I should be here," Watson said. "... I think I should be honored that I won here before, and I should be here. I would love to be at home right now watching my little boy and spending time with my wife.

"But yeah, I'm here because I just felt like it was the right thing to do."

Watson, who ranks second in the FedExCup, has done nearly everything right this year on the golf course, too. He has played in eight events, made eight cuts and hasn't finished lower than 18th -- the only player on TOUR with three or more starts this year to finish inside the top 25 in every one.

Three of his four top-10s this year have come in Watson's last four starts. He was second at Doral and tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard before beating Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff at Augusta National.

A year ago at TPC Louisiana, Watson led the field in both driving distance and greens in regulation. Not surprisingly, he currently sets the pace on TOUR in distance off the tee (313.1 yards) and ranks second in GIR.

"(I've been) playing good all year, so I am looking forward to the challenge," said Watson, who recovered from a double bogey on the ninth hole on Sunday last year and made up a three-stroke deficit over the last eight holes. "... Hopefully (I) can be near that lead again on Sunday."

Simpson, who shared the lead with Watson entering the final round, was looking for his first career victory last year at TPC Louisiana. He went on to win twice in his final seven starts, only once finishing lower than 10th during that stretch and ending up third in the FedExCup and second on the money list.

Simpson, who led the TOUR with 21 top-25 finishes in 26 starts last year, started the 2012 season on a solid note. He tied for third at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and posted two other top-10s in his first six events. In his three starts since, he hasn't finished higher than 36th, though, so Simpson will be looking to get back on track at TPC Louisiana.

While Watson and Simpson battled for the title, Stricker tied for 13th last year. The 45-year-old has played in the tournament 12 times and has two top-10 finishes, including a tie for seventh in 2009.

The steady Stricker picked up his 12th TOUR win earlier this year at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. It was his fifth win since the start of the 2010 season -- making him one of just four players with four or more victories during that stretch. (Watson is one of the others).

Watson-Stricker-Simpson tee times
Tee times for first two rounds for Bubba Watson/Steve Stricker/Webb Simpson
Round 1
8:30 a.m. ET
No. 10 tee
Round 2
1:30 p.m. ET
No. 1 tee
Bubba Watson interview
Bubba Watson is back after two weeks off -- and still basking in his win at Augusta National. He discussed his life since his Masters win and what he expects in his title defense this week in the Zurich Classic. Watch: Video interview | Crane recalls friend's win | Ross: Watson back to work
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1:40 p.m. ET, No. 1, 8:40 a.m. No. 10
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Stricker, who has two other top-10s in his six starts this season, has not missed a cut on TOUR since the 20009 PGA Championship. That span of 48 starts is more than double the next best current streak on TOUR.