INSIDE THE ROPES By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
Inside the ropes – Bubba Watson’s one-year reign as defending Masters champion is over and he enjoyed the ride as much, if not more, than most first-time major champions. Watson is playing this week in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, his first tournament since tying for 50th in the Masters two weeks ago and then putting the Green Jacket on his successor, Adam Scott. “You know, it’s been a crazy year, a great year, golf and off the course,” said Watson, whose life might be starting to get back to some sort of normal. “But you know, coming back, it was fun, defending champ, I got to bring a guest, so my wife played 18 holes with me on Sunday (before the tournament). What a dream, what an honor. “So for me, no, I don’t see that I’m a hero, a great of the game. But to myself, I can see that I can see that I can compete at a high level at certain moments. You know, I’m not as consistent as some of the guys, I’m not up there every year, but any moment I have a chance to win.” … So it was fun, it was a blast.”
Things haven’t been the same for Watson since his hook shot out of the trees on the second playoff hole at Augusta National led to an unlikely par that beat Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. When he returned to Augusta, he didn’t go back and try to recreate that shot from the pine straw on the 10th hole, but he’s been in plenty of other places since becoming a major champion. In the year following his surprise victory in the Masters, Bubba made two whirlwind media tours of New York, one right after winning and the other the week before defending his title. His life already had been altered drastically when he and his wife, Angie, adopted an infant son, Caleb, right before the first major of 2012, and he recently moved his family from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Orlando, Fla. Also in the last year, Watson bought the original General Lee, the Dodge Charger from the television series “Dukes of Hazzard,” and taped his second “Golf Boys” video with Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan. Bubba signed a big endorsement deal with Oakley, and made the news when he filmed a video driving the company’s new hovercraft golf cart. And he hasn’t won a golf tournament. “I think when he won the Masters, it became overwhelming,” said Ted Scott, Watson’s caddie. “It’s a real adjustment for a guy like Bubba. Bubba plays golf because he loves the game and it’s fun. He’s not saying, ‘Hey, I can’t wait to sign autographs and do all that other stuff.’ “He does it out of the kindness of his heart, but it’s not something he looks forward to. I think some guys are better prepared to deal with the extra stuff that comes with success, but maybe the game of golf is harder for them. “Before he was a winner, Bubba had a fan base because of his pink-shaftin’, curvin’, left-handed, kind of wild type play. Make him a Masters champ and there was kind of a frenzy. … It just added to the pressure, and made it a lot more to deal with. So it really didn’t surprise me that he wasn’t out there competing to win every week.” In his 18 starts on the PGA Tour since donning the Green Jacket, Watson has finished in the top 10 only five times, and he also has missed the cut on four occasions. It’s not as bad as those numbers might indicate because he also has wound up in the top 25 in 13 tournaments and his finish at the Masters was his worst result other than those missed cuts. “I think it’s just golf,” said Watson, who hopes to get his game back on track this week at TPC Louisiana, where he won two years ago and tied for 18th last year as defending champion in his first event after winning at Augusta. “It goes a few years this way, a few years that way.” Bubba wasn’t even fazed by hitting three balls into the water on the 12th hole in the final round of the Masters and taking a 10 on the treacherous par-3 hole at Amen Corner. Kevin Na also hit three balls into the water and took a 10 on the same hole earlier in the day. “So we tied, so we were even after that hole,” Watson said in good humor after signing his scorecard for 5-over-par 77 as he ended his reign at Augusta, finishing with a smile on his face when he birdied No. 18. “You know, it’s funny, if you’re not going to win, you’ve got to get in the record books somehow, so I’m a guy that got a double digit score on a par 3. When you look back at this week I had nine three-putts, three balls in the water on 12, a 10. So when you add all that up, a tie for 50th is a pretty good week.” And, as Bubba sees it, the end to a pretty good year.