Watson back on Masters radar

Bubba Watson plays his shot from the seventh tee during his final-round match against fellow American Kevin Kisner in the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play on Sunday. The world No. 21 defeated Kisner 7 & 6.
Bubba Watson plays his shot from the seventh tee during his final-round match against fellow American Kevin Kisner in the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play on Sunday. The world No. 21 defeated Kisner 7 & 6.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Fit-again American surges into Augusta reckoning with WGC Match Play victory

AUSTIN (Texas) • Just when it seemed the 2018 edition of the Masters had been afforded sufficient pre-tournament storylines, enter Bubba Watson.

The first Major of the year seldom arrives quietly but what a build-up has been assured.

American Watson, the Masters champion in 2012 and 2014, confirmed his return to the elite level of this sport with a comfortable success at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play event on Sunday.

With Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth guaranteed as part of the Augusta narrative, perhaps the enigmatic Watson felt left out.

He certainly gave the impression of precisely that being the case over five days in Texas, joining Woods, McIlroy, Mickelson and Ernie Els as the only players with multiple Major and WGC wins - his other WGC crown coming in China at the 2014 HSBC Champions.

The 35th seed, already a PGA Tour winner in 2018 at last month's Genesis Open, defeated fellow American Kevin Kisner 7 and 6 in the final at the Austin Country Club.

Kisner found himself five down after as many holes, perhaps the consequence of a gruelling semi-final against Swede Alex Noren which stretched to a 19th hole.

It is debatable, however, whether Kisner at his best would have been able to match Watson's inspired performance.

Only a missed Watson chance from four feet prevented the scenario of 6-up after six holes.

The outcome was already a formality, with the championship match a Watson procession. The 39-year-old was six ahead at the turn, with Kisner taking until the 11th to win his first hole of the final.

He was seven down at that stage and a birdie four at the 12th confirmed Watson's success, marking quite the professional and personal turnaround.

The world No. 21 spent last year seeking form and good health, and lost significant weight, a matter later put down to an illness which he has been unwilling to specify.

Watson ended the year 89th in the world rankings, ludicrous for someone of his talent and he even briefly contemplated retirement.

Now, Watson is not only a key component of the Masters narrative, but already almost certain to return to the Ryder Cup fold at the end of September. His recent individual tournament success level, now 11 wins since 2010, is only bettered by Johnson and McIlroy.

"I have confidence knowing that I am fit and healthy again," Watson said. "I also have confidence because I can hit all the shots I want to. And I'm back holing putts."

By virtue of artistry, Watson remains different and compulsive viewing because of it.

Earlier, Justin Thomas had admitted he needed to be "mentally stronger" after the burden of attempting to become world No. 1 proved too difficult to handle as he slipped to a 3 and 2 semi-final loss against Watson.

The second-ranked American would have upstaged Johnson - who has topped the rankings for 58 successive weeks - had he reached the final but didn't lead at any stage against Watson.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Watson back on Masters radar'. Print Edition | Subscribe