Bubba the master at playing to strengths

If circumstances were to play out in which his name would be added to an elite list, certainly you could not be blamed for shaking your head.

And if you were to look at the list and say, “one of these things isn’t like the other,” the name Bubba Watson would be circled.

Just no way it belongs alongside Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods.

Thunderous applause for that trio, the only men to win back-to-back Masters. Nicklaus accomplished the feat in 1965-66, Faldo in 1989-90, and Woods in 2001-02. But to think that Watson could successfully defend his Masters title and toss his name alongside those icons? Hard to believe stuff, perhaps, but not to the left-hander.

“As a competitor, I believe in my game. I can see [me] pulling it off,” said Watson, who a year ago left Augusta National on the emotions of a magical winning shot. Having put himself in trees with an ugly pull hook at the dogleg left par-four 10th, Watson seemed destined to lose to Louis Oosthuizen, who had split the fairway at the second play-off hole.

Only Watson hooked a wedge some 40 yards, around a tree, then under branches, and saw it travel approximately 135 yards and bounce to within 10 feet of the hole. When Oosthuizen misfired on his approach and then hiccuped over his pitch shot, he would do no better than bogey, so Watson wisely two-putted for par — and a green jacket.

It opened a floodgate of emotions and led to tears, and a year later, the powerful 34-year-old is still crying.

“Thanks for bringing this up,” Watson said through tears, facing the media before the start of the 77th Masters. He had been asked if he had done anything special with the vaunted green jacket and midway through his answer he tried to talk of wrapping infant adopted son Caleb in it when emotions won out.

“I’ll finish this one, try to,” Watson said, waving off the moderator’s offer to skip the rest of the question and move to a new one.

On the surface, it seemed to show the human side of an athletic competitor who plays his game at the highest level. The thing is though, that in so many ways what sits well beneath the surface contributes mightily to a persona that mystifies and confounds many within PGA Tour circles.

Watson, simply put, would win no popularity contests if only his PGA Tour brethren voted. But if those who live within the borders of Twitter World voted, however, Watson’s favourable rating would be through the roof, and therein rests the curiosity of this four-time PGA Tour winner.

He is different things to different people. A fun-loving guy who makes silly and goofy music videos with fellow pros Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane and Hunter Mahan. But a moody and removed personality off the course who has left people feeling cold.

But to those who put personalities aside and focus strictly on the golf, Watson stands as a fascinating study. When compared to those behemoths — Nicklaus, Faldo, Woods, a threesome that combines for an overwhelming total of 38 Major championships — Watson is quite the contrast. Nicklaus, the master course manager; Faldo, a ball-striking machine; Woods, the greatest mix of power and touch.

Watson? Oh, there’s power to spare, no question. Yet what stands out beyond that is not the ball-striking (haphazard), the wedges (erratic) or the putting (streaky), but the incomparable vision, the imagination, the creative ability to make a ball curve right to left or, in the case of his clutch play-off shot a year ago, left to right.

So much brilliant touch and discipline from a guy who seems at so many times to be lacking in patience and practicality.

“I’m not technical,” Watson said. “I’ve never had a lesson.”

To him, it’s all about “speed, my hands rolling over and the way I set up to [the ball] with a little closed club face and how you make that into scientific terms, I have no idea. I didn’t think about it.”

It’s inconceivable to think that either Nicklaus, Faldo or Woods would explain without painstaking details, without a good measure of mechanical backdrop, so again, Watson doesn’t fit. But in that the one-time mini-tour player in his beat-up Cadillac has morphed into a world-class player, Watson has everything in common with Nicklaus, Faldo and Woods. He has figured out his game, his strengths and weaknesses and he’s developed a penchant for Augusta National.

In other words, if he were to win this year, maybe he’s not so out of place on that list.

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