Bubba Watson is just too good to be denied at Riviera

Bubba Watson tracks the flight of his shot on the seventh hole during the final round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on Sunday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Dustin Johnson has finished his last two PGA Tour events by shooting a 66 in the final round. That’s the kind of gold-medal performance that brings a lot of victories in professional golf.

But for the second consecutive tournament, a closing 66 from one of the longest hitters in the game was good enough only for second place.

Dustin Johnson, silver medalist. Again.

Johnson’s misfortune Sunday was that Bubba Watson was in the Northern Trust Open field at Riviera Country Club. Everyone else’s misfortune too.

For the second day in a row, Watson shot a bogey-free, seven-under-par 64, the strongest finish in the history of the tournament. Four strokes off the lead after three rounds, Watson wound up at 15-under-par 269 and won by two shots over Johnson.

Watson grabbed the gold and wouldn’t let anyone else take it away.


Johnson, who won his first event of the season and has finished sixth, second and second in three others, was philosophical afterward.

“You know, when you shoot 14 under on the weekend . . . it’s tough to beat that,” said Johnson, who was seeking his ninth PGA Tour victory on Sunday.

Watson, who won for the fifth time on tour but first since the 2012 Masters, gave no indication when he teed off on his first hole, No. 10, on Thursday that this kind of performance was ahead of him. He double-bogeyed the short par four, and added another double bogey on his third hole, the 12th.

After two rounds, he was one under par, eight shots off the lead and tied for 40th.

Saturday, his first 64 put the leaders within sight. And the five men ahead of him — with a total of three tournament wins in their careers — weren’t players accustomed to playing for PGA Tour championships, particularly events with the pedigree of this one.

Two of them stayed with the leaders Sunday. Jason Allred, the former Pepperdine player who had qualified for the field only on Monday and was three shots off the lead to start, shot a 68 to finish tied for third. Left-hander Brian Harman, also three back to start and a player who had missed the cut in three of his previous five tournaments, matched Allred’s 68.

“I had a couple of chances to put some pressure on Bubba and make him feel a little bit of heat,” said Harman, who played in the same group with Watson.

But Watson made every putt he needed to and offered no openings.

Whenever Watson got in trouble, he got himself out. On the par-five first hole, he pulled his tee shot 40 yards right of the fairway, hooked a seven-iron 190 yards to the green in a way that defied the laws of physics and two-putted for birdie.

On the par-three sixth hole, he had trouble figuring out what club to hit, knocked his tee shot in the deep bunker to the left of the green . . . then holed out from the sand for a birdie that tied him for the lead.

Watson was simply hoping to give himself a reasonable putt for par.

“The key is trying to get up and down, not trying to make it, obviously,” he said. ". . . Somehow it went in.”

Among Watson’s seven birdies were one at the par-three fourth, a hole longer than “War and Peace” that was rated hardest on the course for the tournament, and another on the par-four 18th. He was the only player among the top nine finishers to finish with a birdie.

Watson hasn’t had great success at Riviera; he had missed the cut three of the seven times he’d played before this year. But he likes the course.

“They don’t trick it up,” he said of Riviera. “It just is what it is, and it’s tough. . . . This is where I’m just comfortable.”

And now, very successful.

Twitter: @latimesjames