Winning all that matters to Bubba Watson

It was a round-table discussion, of sorts, questions fired at golf experts who work for ESPN, and when after 20 minutes or so none of the dialogue had touched upon an obvious candidate here at the Masters, former PGA Champion Paul Azinger laughed.

Winning all that matters to Bubba Watson

“I can’t believe we haven’t even mentioned Bubba Watson,” he said.

Shhhh. Don’t stir the ashes and get the flames burning again. The lumbering left-hander is sort of enjoying the under-the-radar role at the season’s first major championship.

He’s the defending champ and a two-time winner. But that’s Watson waving you off and pointing you in other directions. See there, it’s Tiger Woods, back in action for the first time since February. And over there, it’s the world’s greatest player, Rory McIlroy. He’s on the threshold of history, trying to be the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam. You’ve got Adam Scott, trying for his second Masters, and 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, he of the red-hot streak. You’ve got Jimmy Walker and Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.

“So y’all talk to all of them this week. Bother them all week,” Watson said.

With a sly grin, of course, because Watson knows he doesn’t even have to ask. The media has been more enamoured with Woods — for good reason. And the media remains in love with McIlroy – the honeymoon in what, its seventh season. The interest in Scott is consistently high, the appreciation of this Spieth saga passionately growing. But Bubba? For all his golf glory and in contrast to the public’s fascination with him, he remains an enigma; the media struggles with his rough-around-the-edges country-boy persona and doesn’t embrace what it considers to be his shallowness.

His Masters wins in 2012 and 2014? His massive length? His ball-shaping and shot-making? The large charitable cheques he has written?

Good topics, all of them, but at the top of the list Tuesday were questions to the 36-year-old about one of those cheap, cowardly, and careless surveys of anonymous players, the one that suggested Bubba was not very popular with his colleagues. Sticky stuff, for sure, but he tried to brush it aside.

“Here’s the way I take it,” he said. “I take it as I need to improve as a man. I take it with pride. I need to get better.”

Since breaking onto the PGA Tour in 2006 after several years of mini-tour and minor-league golf, Watson has gone in his own directions – sometimes massively right-to-left, occasionally left-to-right, but rarely in synch with a wide spectrum of media folks, many of whom have always viewed Watson as a contrarian. On the one hand he screams for privacy and says he wants to left alone. On the other hand he drives a neon-coloured Lamborghini. He professes a strong religious faith, but he curses his caddie and rubs his colleagues up the wrong way.

Curious and complex, this man from a place called Bagdad, a small town in the Florida panhandle. Want further proof, consider this: When eight youngsters ages 7-15 were crowned national winners in the second annual Drive, Chip & Putt championship, they met reporters in the interview room at Augusta National and six of them said they want “Bubba” to win the Masters again.

“That’s neat to see,” Watson said.

Yet he isn’t being embraced as a threat to win yet another green jacket, to be just the fourth player to successfully defend at the Masters? Despite manhandling the par 5s (50 under for his 24 rounds at Augusta National) and showing an immense feel for the course as well as a fondness for all the traditions and rituals, Watson is not exactly a media attraction this week, even while he sits at 10-1 with the bettors, second only to McIlroy.

Watson insists he’s far too worried about treacherous greens and finding the proper position in sloping fairways to wonder why this is.

But if it’s personal . . . if it’s the media inability’s to ever gravitate to him . . . well, he understands, to a point.

“I’m nuts,” Watson said, laughing.

Then he got serious and seemed to indicate that he knows he’s not everyone’s warm and cuddly character.

“I’ve had some mess-ups on tour,” he said, “and I think I’ve improved in those areas and I’m trying to get better.”

Likely, though, that’s he’s putting more effort in trying to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Tiger Woods as the only players to win back-to-back Masters. Making history is sometimes more fun than making friends.

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