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Bubba Watson ends two-year drought with two-stroke victory at Genesis Open

It had been two years since Bubba Watson had won on the PGA Tour, two years during which he was at the lowest mental point in his golf life. He even spoke with his wife several times about retiring from the game.

That discussion is on hold.

Watson, thanks largely to a bunker shot on the 14th hole that turned adversity into an advantage, shot a two-under-par 69 at Riviera Country Club on Sunday, finishing at 12-under par to win the Genesis Open by two strokes.

The 39-year-old left-hander — with the distinctive pink driver and a long, looping swing that almost seems a physical impossibility — also won at Riviera in 2014 and 2016.

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Kevin Na and Tony Finau shot 69s Sunday and wound up tied for second at 10 under. Scott Stallings (68) and Patrick Cantlay (71) were another stroke behind.

“It’s unbelievable,” Watson said. “It’s overwhelming. Where I was a year and a half ago …”

Near the end of 2016 and last year, Watson lost about 20 pounds from his accustomed playing weight of a little over 180, in part because of diet and in part because of an undisclosed “minor” medical condition that he won’t discuss.

The weight loss affected his play, his strength and, perhaps most significantly, his belief in himself.

After his win at Riviera in 2016, he had only two top-10 finishes in 14 starts; last year, he had only four top-10s in 22 events and failed to make the weekend in eight of those. He hadn’t won since the second title at Riviera.

“My ball speed, my swing, everything changed,” he said of trying to play at 165 pounds or so. “Having the strength not be there takes away the confidence. When you stop having confidence, then these guys are going to pass you real fast.”

How close was he to retiring from the game?

“I was close,” he said. “My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She’s a lot tougher than I am.”

So he’s gained weight; he’s healthier, and he’s regained the strength it takes to hit the powerful, bending shots that had been a trademark of his career.

He credited a five-hole stretch (which culminated with the bunker shot he made on the 194-yard 14th hole) with paving the way for the win.

He parred the tricky 305-yard 10th, a hole he’s never comfortable on; made a 10-foot putt for birdie on the 572-yard par-five 11th; then saved par with seven-foot putts on the next two holes before hitting his tee shot on No. 14 into the left-side bunker. He was deep in the bunker, 49 feet from the hole with very little green to work with. Bogey seemed likely.

Watson sank the shot for birdie and the first two-shot lead of the final round.

“There’s five holes in a row I’m guessing were humongous,” he said.

Cantlay, who grew up in the area and played at UCLA, has had friends and family along the ropes all week. But the gallery following him, Watson and 24-year-old Australian Cameron Smith in the final group had a vocal Watson bias.

Na, Cantlay, Finau and Stallings all made minor moves to either take the lead or stand a shot back throughout the afternoon, but once Watson built his two-shot advantage with the bunker shot, no one could touch him.

Cantlay had the outright lead at 11 under before bogeys on Nos. 12 and 13 left him in a five-way tie one stroke behind Watson. His par on the 565-yard par-five 17th effectively lost him a shot (every player who finished at eight under or better birdied the hole).

When Watson birdied, it was clear all he needed to do was make par on 18 to ensure a win.

And once Na and Finau failed to birdie the final hole in the group ahead of Watson, all he needed was bogey.

Watson had nine wins on tour before this week. Earlier in his career he had set a goal of 10 victories, which he achieved Sunday.

There was a time not long ago he thought he might never get No. 10.

“You don’t know,” he said. “We can’t predict what’s going to happen around the corner.

“The emotion was just that, like wow, I still have a chance in this game.”


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