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Why This Bubba Is Different

This time around, Bubba Watson seems better equipped to handle the demands of being a Masters champion

April 16, 2014

Is Bubba Watson's future as bright as the pink driver he used to win a green jacket for the second time in three years?

Related: 19 things you should know about Bubba Watson

No other Masters champion has used a club the color of the azaleas, but Watson is not quite like any other winner of the year's first major championship. His personality is much harder to diagram than driver and wedge into a famous par 5, not that most of golf's marquee names haven't been at least a little complicated outside the ropes. 

For months after Watson earned it with an all-world recovery shot, his 2012 Masters victory had seemed more of a burden than a springboard. Even before getting bothered by expectations of how he would play with a major in his pocket -- an old worry for those who just added a bold line to their competitive résumé -- Watson was worn down by the tangential trappings.

"It drains you a lot more than you know," Watson said last week after the second round. "Every sponsor that you have, every company you represent, they want a piece of your time, they want more of your time. Yellow flags -- I've seen enough ofthose. I really don't want to sign too many more of those yellow flags."

Although he doesn't drink, Watson called the adjustment to his new fame a Masters hangover. To get over it, he didn't need a milkshake and a cheeseburger but some straight talk from a pastor friend who suggested a bible verse that says in part, "for I have I learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

Even if he has to autograph more pin flags until his Sharpie runs out and his hand cramps up, Watson tried to realize his situation is nothing to get cranky about. A lot of boys slap plastic golf balls around their yard, as Watson did in rural Florida, and don't become men winning majors with grown-up versions of those home-styled shots. Being grateful can be as simple as just doing your job, one of the best in the world, and rolling with the ups and downs that inevitably are part of professional golf.  

"Where I'm at in my life, where I'm at in my career," Watson said, "I've just got to keep grinding. It's all about not focusing on the bad stuff. It's about how lucky I am to be able to play golf and just keep going from there."

Watson had been peevish with caddie Ted Scott at times earlier this season, quick to blame him for a bad read after a missed putt. According to Scott, though, the visible venting belied that his boss' attitude had veered like one of his monster cuts off the tee from tree line to fairway.

"This year he's been fantastic with keeping control of his mind," Scott said Sunday night. "Yesterday when things weren't going well, I was in his ear saying, 'Come on, man.' And he said, 'I got it, man. I'm fine.' So I didn't have to cheer him up. I didn't have to pump him up. I didn't have to encourage him. He was flat pretty much as far as his attitude, taking the good with the bad. That's what you have to do to win a major championship. If you get to thinking sour for one minute, you're going to back up quick."

The chances that Watson, 35, won't regress after capturing his second major title seem improved not only because of how he closed with a three-under 69, but that he had a victory and two seconds in 2014 before he got to Augusta National. Those high finishes point to a golfer utilizing his creativity rather than squandering it under a cloud of woe-is-me, who is polishing a gift instead of taking it for granted. 

With two majors among six PGA Tour victories, Watson's career stats are very similar to those of another free-swinging, individualistic talent who won with astounding clout and surprising touch, John Daly (a PGA Championship and British Open among five wins). Daly's hangovers weren't figurative, and to see another instinctively blessed golfer slipping on golf's greatest garment while Daly sold his  logoed shirts and caps down Washington Road is to be reminded that greatness is not only fragile but can be fleeting. After winning two majors in four years, the second at St. Andrews when he was only 29, Daly added just one PGA Tour title nine years later.

Related: The defining shots of the 2014 Masters

Daly and Watson are among 77 men who have won at least two professional major championships, a small fraternity of achievement. If Watson nurtures his talent -- and discovers his way to thrive in the spotlight as he developed his swing -- he has every chance to move into more elite company. It is not inconceivable that over the next decade Watson could pick off three more majors to get him to the level of golf's most famous lefty, Phil Mickelson, and an achievement reached by only 19 players.

Watson likely will need to become more than a Masters specialist to do that -- other than his Augusta wins, he has only two major top-10s in 25 major appearances -- but the slice-smashing southpaw should not be underestimated. "I'm not trying to play golf for everybody to tell me how great I am or [that] I'm one of the greats of the game," he said. If Watson keeps it up, it will be obvious without saying a word.

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