Rory McIlroy's form a few weeks from the Masters is a slight worry but Bubba Watson looks in great shape for a crack at a third Green Jacket

Sam Torrance
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Northern Trust Open - Round Three
Rory McIlroy shared the lead at the Northern Trust Open but slipped out of contention with a final round of 75 (Source: Getty)

Perhaps it’s the Jordan Spieth effect, maybe it’s the prospect of a Ryder Cup later this year, or it could simply be that they are just a very talented bunch. Either way, American golfers are on song.

On Sunday it was Bubba Watson’s turn to take centre stage as the two-time Masters winner conjured a brilliant finish to claim the Northern Trust Open by one shot from Jason Kokrak and Adam Scott.

It was very close but Watson took the title – his third on the PGA Tour in 16 months – in some style, playing beautifully down the stretch and edging in front with superb birdies at 16 and 17.

The win lifted Watson above compatriot Rickie Fowler, himself a winner in Abu Dhabi last month, to fourth in the world. With Spieth top of the rankings, the US players certainly seem to be driving each other on.

Last time Watson won the Northern Trust Open, in 2014, he went on to win his second Masters just a few weeks later, so this victory can only boost his prospects of a third Green Jacket.

The 37-year-old has plenty of other factors in his favour. His game is well suited to Augusta: he hits the ball so far and shapes it so well, plus his putting and chipping is fantastic. He also benefits from knowing he has won there before, which is a huge advantage at a course that can be intimidating.

Watson’s Sunday contrasted starkly with that of another Masters hopeful, Rory McIlroy, who started the day with an eagle that saw him share the lead but ended tied for 20th after a 75.

That was a disappointing finish, for me. He knows Riviera well and it’s a real golfers’ course, so it ought to have suited him, and I think this one will niggle with Rory.

He put himself in a position to win and great players knock off victories like this. Augusta is perhaps in his eyeline but this was his third start of the year so he should have been a bit more ready.

It’s a little bit of a worry. He’s making a lot of mistakes, although on the positive side there is nothing seriously wrong with his game and he still finished top 20. Spieth, meanwhile, didn’t even make the cut.

McIlroy has the chance to respond at this week’s Honda Classic, an event where he has history. He won in 2012 but quit halfway through his second round 12 months later citing toothache. Let’s see if he bites back.

Finally, well done to Marcus Fraser for landing his first European Tour win in six years in Malaysia. Sinusitis hampered Danny Willett’s bid, but the Englishman had looked good before that.

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