April 8, 2013

Augusta National a good fit for lefty Watson

Defending Masters champion Bubba Watson is one of five left-handed golfers to win the event in the past 10 years.

Masters champion Bubba Watson, the latest left-hander to prevail at Augusta National Golf Club, heads into Thursday’s title defense ranked No. 14 in the world golf rankings.

Watson, 34, has cracked the top 25 in five of six events he has played on the 2013 PGA Tour, with two top-10 finishes. He ranks seventh among tour participants in driving distance (301.5 average), 11th in greens in regulation (71.2 percentage) and 14th in birdie average (4.24 per round).

A native of Bagdad, Fla., Watson became the fifth lefty to win the Masters in the past decade when he prevailed over Louis Oosthuizen at the 2012 event with a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Watson rescued par after driving deep into the left rough by carving a spectacular gap wedge approach around some trees to within 10 feet of the flagstick. Watson played roughly 40 yards of movement on the shot that set up a two-putt par to trump Oosthuizen’s bogey on the first playoff hole.

Unlike last year, when Watson won while his wife, Angie, was home with their newly adopted son, the entire family will be on hand at Augusta National for the title defense. Watson hopes that his son Caleb, who celebrated his first birthday in February, will be able to walk with him during Wednesday’s par-3 competition.

Watson weighed in on a variety of topics during a recent teleconference. Here is a look at Bubba in his own words:

On the joys of fatherhood, one year into the experience: The highlight is every day, watching him from when he was a month old, when we got him. … It’s all a dream. It’s an amazing feeling when you finally become a parent. I thought golf was my life. Then I thought when I got married, my wife was my life. And now, with a child, my family is my life.

On not announcing the menu for this year’s Champions Dinner, selected by the reigning Masters champ: We’ll wait to see that day what I have. I think as Masters champion, I should be allowed to just wait to tell everybody.

On whether he would be willing to try and replicate his dramatic approach at No. 10 that helped seal last year’s Masters triumph: I pulled it off once, so I should be able to pull it off again. But I want that to live. So no [to a replication]. … That might be my only legacy of winning the Masters, so I want that shot to live, and I want it to grow. Hopefully, 20 years from now, it’s even tougher and there was bigger trees and it was a tougher situation. I don’t have any reason to go over there again. Hopefully, I hit the fairway from now on so I don’t need to practice that shot any more.

On the difficulty of his shot at the 10th hole in last year’s sudden-death playoff: I pulled off a couple more that week, earlier in the week. The one on No. 17, earlier in that day — three holes before that — was harder. One on No. 11 … was harder. So that one, just in that week, that was like No. 4 on the list. … Obviously, the playoff shot was the most important and the most exciting. But the other ones were more difficult. Just nobody cared what Bubba Watson was doing those other days or other shots.

On why the shot in regulation at No. 17 was harder than his approach shot at the 10th hole in the playoff: The one at 17 in regulation, when I was tied for the lead, it was off [hardpan] where the patrons walk. So it was like a hard-packed mud where there’s no give. … I had to hit my 52-degree wedge off of that and go over some trees, about 150 yards. It was pretty tough, and I did it.

On why the Augusta layout is well-suited for left-handed golfers: It sets up really good for my game because I like to cut the ball off the tee. So my driver — you go through it real fast. No. 2 is a cut driver; No. 5 is a cut with a 4-wood; No. 8, you aim at the bunker and cut it; No. 9 is a cut; No. 10 is a cut; No. 13 is a cut; No. 14 is a cut; 17 is a little cut. … There’s only three tee shots that really scare me or can get me on the whole golf course.

On the need to reset goals after winning a major championship: You have to do that because you don’t want to be known for the one tournament. You want to go out there and compete for many more years. ... I tried to get out of that situation [being satisfied with one major] fast.

On the most overwhelming part of the past year as Masters champion: It’s to make golf first. I love to have fun. I love to goof around. … But the charity work that I do, I have more influence with charity dollars and charity work if I play good golf. So I need to keep competing at a high level and remember that golf is first and the other stuff is after that.

On how much he wears the green jacket: Out of respect for the Masters and Augusta National, I haven’t done anything with the jacket. They’ve asked me to do a photo shoot, so I wore it one time for a photo shoot. And then it’s been in my closet, hidden away. None of my friends have seen it. None of my friends have taken photos of it. It’s been in the garment bag they give you, with ‘2012 Masters champ’ on it. I haven’t taken it out.

On his success rate in executing creative, high-risk shots that he attempts with regularity: You pull off a lot of those because you get focused on the situation. You get focused on the shot. Nothing else is in there. There’s no noise. Nothing takes your mind off of it. … So I would say we’d pull off most of those. I know it seems weird to say.

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