February 08, 2019

Bubba Watson: third time’s the charm

Heading into the 2018 Genesis Open, Bubba Watson already had his name in the Riviera history book. Twice, in fact. But if twice is nice, three times is legendary. That’s what Watson became when he won the 2018 Genesis Open, his third tournament title in five years.

The accomplishment isn’t lost on Watson, who with the victory, added his name to the likes of Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer.

“I never dreamed that I’d be a winner on the PGA TOUR,” Watson said. “And to be in the likes of those guys (Hogan and Palmer), winning three times at Riviera, it’s more than I could ever dream.”

Hogan and Palmer are both three-time winners of the Genesis Open, but neither won the event three times at Riviera. Hogan’s first victory in Los Angeles came at Hilcrest Country Club in 1942 before he posted back-to-back victories at Riviera in 1947-48. Palmer won the tournament three times, in 1963, 1966-67, all of which came at Rancho Park.

Watson’s victory at Riviera in 2018 put him in a class almost his own. With tournament wins in 2014, 2016 and 2018, Watson joined Lloyd Mangrum as on only three-time Genesis Open winner at Riviera. Like Watson, Mangrum won in alternating years, posting victories in 1949, 1951 and 1953.

For Watson, each victory at Riviera helped to set his direction for the season. In 2014, Watson shot bogie free 64-64 over the weekend to earn his first win of the year. A few weeks later, Watson would capture his second green jacket as he won the Masters Tournament. The 2014 season ended with Watson as the top qualifier for the United States Ryder Cup team.

Heading into the 2016 season, Watson was riding high. Two victories in 2015, and a win at the Hero World Challenge in December, had Watson primed for success in Los Angeles. A monster drive on the 17th hole on Sunday allowed Watson a two-putt birdie on the long par-5 hole and gave him a one-shot lead heading to the 18th. With a par on the final hole, Watson earned a one-shot win and his second tournament title in three years. That summer, Watson was the top ranked player in the golf tournament at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

In 2018, it wasn’t until a hole-out on the par-3 14th on Sunday, that Watson knew he was looking at another victory.

“I hit a bunker shot on 14,” Watson said. “I wasn’t even thinking about winning until the bunker shot went in and I was like ‘wait a second, I’m winning the golf tournament.’ So, then I just tried to limp home and somehow make pars. I birdied on 17 and then tried to make par on 18 to secure the victory.”

While three victories in five years cements Watson’s legacy in Los Angeles, that only tells the story on the course. To understand the significance of this accomplishment, you need to look off the course.

“We have to look beyond golf, I think it’s my life,” Watson said of his ups and downs between his 2016 and 2018 victories at Riviera. “I’ve had some mental issues, I’ve had some physical issues, I’ve had a combination of both. I’ve added some new members of my family with the adoption process. Golf is just a byproduct of the stress and things going on in my life.”

On course, success seemed to come easily for Watson between his 2014 and 2016 victories at Riviera, but that same success didn’t follow. After his 2016 victory, his next win would come at Riviera in 2018. For Watson, the emotion of the 2018 victory at Riviera was overwhelming.

“It means a lot,” Watson said of his 2018 Genesis Open win. “You never know if you’re going to play good again. I lost 25 to 30 pounds the year before. To be able to come back from that and win again, never expecting to win, and then to win again, my life came full circle. I looked like I was going to retire because of my physical issues, I couldn’t play golf, I couldn’t sustain the energy. To be able to come back and win, it was all of that coming forward. The hard work, the dedication, the rebuilding my game and my physical structure, it was one of those things that was amazing.”

Watson’s success at Riviera can be attributed to a number of things, but his love of the course plays a major role.

“I love that the golf course doesn’t change and stays true to tradition,” Watson said. “It’s a golf course that bombers can play, that short hitters can play and that makes it a fun test of golf.”

While Riviera is a fun test of golf, spending a week in Los Angeles adds to the fun for Watson. In 2018, Watson visited the set of the popular TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” and played in the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game on Saturday. Watson made two free throws in the latter, but also had a shot swatted by Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady.

“I love that area, I love LA, I love the Hollywood scene,” Watson said. “For me getting to LA, I get excited. Winning at Riviera is high on my list every year and being able to actually do it every other year has been a dream.”