Inside the New Bubba Watson at the Memorial Tournament

Bubba Watson churned up the leaderboard at the 2014 Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, with a solid 3-under 69 that included a bogey on the 18th, one of his least favorite holes. He has a one-shot lead over fellow lefty Scott Langley, another over Japan’s impressive Hideki Matsayama and yet another over Adam Scott.

“Today was good.  It was a little windier than we were used to.  Picked up all day.  Shooting in the 60s is great around here.  Pretty excited about it.  Have a shot going into tomorrow.  Would like the same score tomorrow and let the boys just beat me if they want to beat me.”

“So tomorrow come out here and stay relaxed and keep doing what I’ve been doing the first couple of days.”

So he would really take another 69 on Sunday with all the firepower, the best of them at this point, sitting right behind him?

“Oh, yeah.  For sure.  Shooting in the 60s around here, hopefully [tongue-in-cheek] I can come in top 18 so it will beat my previous record here.”

“Again, if you’re shooting 60s around here — obviously there’s some guys shooting low numbers early in the morning, but shooting in the 60s, if I shoot in the ’60s and somebody beats me, then obviously they just played better than me that day.  I think in the 60s is a good round of golf.”

And then a friendly little dig at the media guy who asked the question about the 69. (He does this from time to time, did it to me at the Accenture Match Play a couple of years ago where he was trying to convey how competitive he is. He said he wanted to eat breakfast better than me, tie his shoes better than me, all without taking his eyes off of mine.) It’s all in fun, sort of, and part of his sense of humor:

“I don’t know if you’ve ever shoot in the 60s, but it’s a good round of golf.”

Because Muirfield Village has proved so difficult, would he consider a challenging win on this course that much more rewarding?

“No.  The challenge doesn’t mean anything to me.  It’s just winning would mean a big deal to me.  I don’t care if the golf course is what we call easy or difficult; I just want to win.”

“So Sunday afternoon everybody gets a little tighter.  Golf course just seems that it just gets a little tougher.  So coming down the stretch there’s going to be a battle tomorrow.  And hopefully — no matter, again, if it’s a birdie fest or all pars and bogeys, a win is a win.”

Alluding to his joke about just trying to beat his top-18 finish, what is it that he’s doing this year that he hasn’t done in his previous visits?

“It’s all about maturity.  Thinking around the golf course a lot better.  It’s my ninth year on Tour, so better thinking on the golf course is creating better shots.”

“Hitting a lot more greens.  Hitting a lot more fairways.  Trusting a lot of things.  Putting a little better this year.  When you add all that up, it turns out into better scores.”

Then in the course of another question, he sort of veered into his evolving personal philosophy about himself and his golf:

“I think when you first win, you think you’re a hero.  You think — you put more pressure on yourself to be great, I guess you’d say.  Now I realize I’m not very good, I’m not very great.  So there’s less pressure.  I’m not anxious going to the next tournament and trying to be No. 1 in the world, not trying to be the next great champion.  I’m just trying to play golf.”

“The joke is it’s Bubba golf.  I’m having fun out here, and that’s where I need to be.”

“When it comes down to it, a bad score tomorrow with Little Man [his son] sitting here means absolutely nothing.  It means something to me personally, but to my family it won’t mean anything.  So that’s the way I’m looking at it.”

“Back then I didn’t look at it the right way.  I looked at it all about me and not about what golf really means in life, if that makes sense.  Just trying to answer that is so weird for you.”

To which the same reporter who got jabbed over the 69 question retorted:

Q.  Having fun up there, aren’t you?

“Yeah, I am.  I’m shooting in the 60s right now.”

But it also seemed like Bubba’s “weird” response was just some reflexive self-consciousness after having delved fairly deeply into introspection that was outside of his more normal quippy persona. So he went for humor. And again when he was informed that his best finish was not 18th, but 27th:

“There you go.  See?  I was trying to boost my confidence.  Now I have a better shot of beating it tomorrow.”

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