Northern Trust Open: Bubba Watson Closes Bogey-Free

Nobody could say that Bubba Watson didn’t deserve to win the 2014 Northern Trust Open. He romped through two back-to-back rounds of 64 without a bogey at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Considering the circumstances: the historic course, the historic tournament, the legendary winners and hard and fast conditions, those two rounds were extraordinary.

You know, I made the cut, I think at 1‑under.  So I went into the weekend just trying to just play solid golf, just build on it, build on the future.  I went out and went bogey‑free, which every pro tries to do every day, but I went out bogey‑free and made seven birdies.  And so I jumped up there, had a chance.

Got hot early.  Holed a bunker shot on 6 to really get it going and did the same thing, went bogey‑free on the last hole, fell in to shoot another seven birdies to go bogey‑free on the weekend, so it was nice.

And around here, I mean, what an honor, what a privilege, what a blessing; the history behind this golf tournament, the history behind some of the great names as champions here.  To be a part of that now, to see success here at this golf course, which they haven’t changed much over the years, which all of us golfers love.  They don’t trick it up.  They don’t have to add a bunch of length.  It just is what it is, and it’s tough.

That’s the challenge of this golf course.  It’s always about you and the golf course.  It’s not really us and the field.  That’s why I love it.  

Dustin Johnson made a pretty strong effort that wasn’t quite strong enough. While Bubba shot 7-under, Johnson could only get to 5-under on the day. Before the round, he thought he’d have to shoot 6-under to get to 14-under. Pretty stout, but even if he’d done that he still would have lost by one.

But Johnson is having a great year. He began with the victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, T6 in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui, a month off before Pebble Beach where he finished T2 and now 2nd at Riviera. This is so good money-wise, $2.9 million, he’s within 60 grand of all he won last year even though he didn’t begin his season until early November and it’s still only February.

Yesterday’s post was all about William McGirt’s mini-tour years of learning in the face of sitting on a 2-shot lead overnight. Sunday wasn’t meant to be for him. Between a nervous drive at the first that put him in the left rough (out of bounds not too far away), three far flung bogeys after the birdie on the 1st and his Stroked Gained – Putting stat falling well into negative territory at -2.076, it wasn’t meant to be. Which is odd because he was 6-under on Saturday and 4-under on Friday.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t be able to find out what happened and what he learned from the day, because the Tour didn’t get an interview with him. That probably stems from the long-standing custom of not wanting to embarrass a man when he’s down, but it would be nice if the Tour began to work on de-stigmatizing having a bad day at the office. If it could happen to a solid player like McGirt, it would probably be helpful to him to talk about it in the immediate aftermath without shame and it would certainly be helpful to us.

The feelgood story of he week belongs to Jason Allred who Monday qualified in with a 66 and then finished T3 with Brian Harman. After great second and third rounds (64, 67) he was able to press deeper on Sunday with a bogey-free, 3-under 68. There was a point there late in the round when the dice were beginning to settle that if Allred could birdie 17 (he did) and 18 and Bubba bogeyed 18, he would have been in a three-way playoff with Johnson being the third. Bubba made birdie on 18.

The first good thing that came out of Allred’s week is that the baby didn’t come this week; an event that immediately would have put him back in the car racing for Scottsdale; he got to finish off his big comeback tournament. The second good thing that came out of the week was that he recaptured that larger sense of himself as a Tour player and what has been holding him back.

I’d say more than anything, just playing with freedom.  I think for whatever reason, I love this game so much, and I care so much, and also I’m a people pleaser to a fault, I love people; I think just trying so hard to do so well.  I just played with a little bit of fear and a little too careful.

I have a long ways to go still but it’s fun to feel and to experience glimpses of getting better and growing in that area.

The third good thing was that — with the baby imminent — he won $388,600. In the preceding 12 years, he won $765,000. Lightning in a bottle. Peter Kostis said, “There are a lot of nice guys on the PGA Tour and Jason Allred just might be the nicest.” His comments on why he was able to be successful in the final round give us a glimpse of that.

I don’t think I’m a smart enough guy to put into words how much fun I had, but the chance to be here, this place, Riviera, is such an amazing, special place.  I praise God that for whatever reason, despite me, my tendency to try so hard to do so well, I was just able to really enjoy it and I felt peaceful and so thankful to have Keith Nolan, my buddy, and a great caddie on the bag, really helping me, just to soak it in.

To be able to go through that situation and be able to say that I really — it’s still fresh, but that I really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun means a lot to me given my history of kind of getting in my own way with that.  I just had a blast.

I am not surprised that Brian Harman finished so well. I had become aware of him because when he got into a tournament a year or so ago as an alternate, the Tour fumbled the ball and didn’t get him to the first tee until his group was already on the 2nd hole. So, “in equity,” they gave him his own tee time and the choice of playing with a marker or just the official scorer. He chose to go it alone and in those distracting circumstances, did very well. I finally got a chance to see him play in person in Phoenix and I was impressed. He obviously did very well this week too, he was just a little disappointed:

After the last two weeks (missed the cut at Phoenix and Pebble), it was a great week.  Obviously, yeah, I kind of let a few slip through my fingers there.  Try to learn from it for sure.  Right now, I feel disappointed.

I putted great all week.  Just didn’t quite have the command with my irons towards the end of the day.  I had a couple chances to put some pressure on Bubba and make him feel a little bit of heat but I’m trying to get up‑and‑down and he’s playing for birdie.

It’s another week I learned about being in contention and the more times you put yourself there, the better chance you have.

So with LA completed, the West Coast Swing is over for another year.

The next stop for the top 64 players in the world (now 67 since Tiger, Phil and Adam had other plans) is the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz Carlton’s Dove Mountain Club in Tucson.

I’ll be going down Tuesday morning for player interviews in the media center and to take a look at the action on the range. I’ll be there all week.

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