I walked a few holes with Bubba Watson at the last Ryder Cup, where we were both acting as vice-captains, and, while he got a lot of love from the spectators, I could tell that he was hurting from being on the wrong side of the ropes.
Watson had failed to make the United States team in Hazeltine, having played in the previous three Ryder Cups, and had suffered a loss of form that saw him fall from a career-high No2 to No117 in the world rankings.
That Ryder Cup would have given him so much hunger to scale those heights again, and he took a big step in the right direction by winning the Genesis Open in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Watson was phenomenal on the back nine, with the pick of three birdies coming at 17, and looked very comfortable all week for a player who had not won for two years.
Winners are winners and perhaps he just lost the feel for a while, but you could see how much he wanted it by how aggressively he played, always at the right times.
Six weeks before Augusta is a great time to rediscover form for a two-time Masters champion. I don’t know what Bubba’s odds were before this win, but he will be justifiably be a lot shorter now.
Tony Finau played great to finish two shots behind in a tie for second, while the evergreen Phil Mickelson had another fabulous week to finish in the top 10 for the third tournament in a row.
It was a tough week for some of the big names, such as Tiger Woods, who missed the cut and looked short in a few departments.
It’s a setback to his return, but he took it well and didn’t lose his cool. Rory McIlroy was top 20, which is okay but not where he wants to be.
It was nice to see McIlroy’s fellow Norther Irishman Graeme McDowell showing again, albeit that he petered out at the end. That’s a result of not challenging much lately and even affects Major winners and good frontrunners like G-Mac.
Ryder boost for Joost
Joost Luiten also produced a very strong back nine on his way to winning the Oman Open, his sixth European Tour title, by two shots from England’s Chris Wood.
It also lifted his hopes of making a Ryder Cup debut this year, and I think he has a great chance. He is a very strong player, is at the right level and would be a good performer in foursomes and fourballs. It’s the next step for him.
The Ryder Cup will be very much on players’ minds now. If they’ve been there before they are desperate to make it again, and if they haven’t then they want it even more.
Luiten would be the first Dutchman to play in the competition, so it would be massive for him and the country.
Woody played well and looks almost back to his best. His pursuit of Luiten faltered when he bogeyed 17 but even then it wasn’t a horrific shot, just one that he pulled slightly.
He’ll be keen for another Ryder Cup outing, having had the disappointment of being on the losing side in 2016, but more than anything he’d just like to be playing solid golf every week.
With his swing, there’s no reason why he can’t challenge week in, week out.