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The Loop

How Bubba Watson took a little off the driver, and still took apart Riviera

February 22, 2016

Just to make this clear, when we say Bubba Watson took a little off the driver, that's exactly what we mean. A little. Even if playing partner Jason Kokrak knocked it about 30 yards past him on No. 18 on Sunday, it's not as if Bubba was bunting it off the tee at Riviera. Still, he posted un-Bubba-like stats during his Northern Trust Open victory.

Looking at the average distance of all of Watson's drives (not just the normal driving-distance stat, which only measures two drives per round), Bubba averaged 295.1 yards off the tee. It's a number that's nothing to sneeze at considering the event average was just 280.7 at a softer-than-usual Riviera, and it still placed Watson fifth in the field.

So what's the big deal? Well fifth is the lowest Watson, widely considered the longest hitter on tour, has ranked in driving distance at a PGA Tour stop since the 2014 PGA Championship. Ironically, that event was where he drew criticism when he refused to participate in the long-drive contest.

Last season, Watson led the field in driving distance in 11 of 14 events where it was recorded, and he's led the tour overall in that stat every season since 2011. In fact, only once has Watson ranked lower in that stat during a tournament (2013 Canadian Open, where he was sixth) since 2009.

But despite hitting it shorter than normal, and only hitting 50 percent of his fairways, Watson posted four rounds in the 60s to win his second Northern Trust Open in three years. His irons were particularly sharp, as evidenced by finishing T-7 in greens in regulation and sixth in proximity to the hole, and he converted enough putts (11th in strokes gained/putting) to pick up his ninth tour title.

And yes, when Watson needs to -- like on Sunday's penultimate hole -- he can still do this: