LAST year Bubba Watson moved into Tiger Woods’s old mansion in Isleworth, Florida. Perhaps he found the former world No1’s swing notes in the cupboard, because he’s gone from strength to strength.
Watson, who donned the Masters winner’s green jacket for a second time in April, racked up title No3 of a stellar 2014 on Sunday at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai – though he had to do it the hard way. Having dropped three shots at 16 and 17, he holed a sensational eagle from the greenside bunker at 18 to tie with Tim Clark, and then went on to beat the South African at the first play-off hole.
It was an extraordinary finish to the second event of the European Tour’s Final Series and fantastic for Watson, who as a result has returned to a career high-equalling third in golf’s world rankings.
The 36-year-old is always popular because he brings excitement to a tournament. His technique isn’t necessarily one for the purists but spectators love to watch him play and that is great for the game.
Now Watson finds himself not just in Woods’s former residence but also occupying his previously watertight position as America’s leading player. The likes of Rickie Fowler, currently ranked ninth, may yet challenge him in the long term, but for now Bubba is definitely the best the United States have got.
His success in China came at the expense of Graeme McDowell, who missed out on the play-off by one stroke after fading on the final day. Until Saturday, he had played all of his previous 10 rounds at Sheshan in under 70 – a brilliant achievement, although ultimately just short.
McDowell, like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, will not be at this week’s Turkish Airlines Open, though all nine of their Ryder Cup team-mates will and the tournament holds special memories for two of them in particular.
Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson have both just had the best years of their careers, and for both men it all started with excellent displays at Antalya 12 months ago. Dubuisson it was who earned a breakthrough triumph, but Donaldson was runner-up, just two shots adrift, and I’d love to see the Welshman, who has been playing the golf of his life, go one better
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam