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Opinion: Bubba Watson deserves more credit for his win record

Watson claimed the Northern Trust Open
Watson claimed the Northern Trust Open

Bubba Watson has more PGA Tour victories than Jordan Spieth and Jason Day and just two less than Rory McIlroy, the only three players above him in the world rankings.

He also has the same number of major titles (two) as world number one Spieth, while Day has won one and Rickie Fowler has yet to collect one of golf's four biggest prizes.

Yet whenever discussion centres on golf's new 'Big Three' of Spieth, Day and McIlroy, or whether Fowler deserves to make it a 'Big Four', Watson's name is curiously absent from the debate.

Perhaps it is because the incredibly talented Watson is a polarising figure, known equally for embarrassing PR gaffes as his ability to shape shots at will and hit the ball prodigious distances.

There was the petulant decision not to enter into the spirit of the newly revived long drive competition ahead of the US PGA Championship in 2014 at Valhalla, when he opted to hit an iron off the 10th tee in practice despite knowing he would use a driver on the par five in the tournament.

And earlier this month, the left-hander admitted he was only playing the Waste Management Phoenix Open because of his sponsors, which led to him being booed by spectators on the notorious par-three 16th and a subsequent apology.

The way Watson acts in the wake of perceived misfortune on the course has also brought the 37-year-old in for harsh criticism, with caddie Ted Scott usually bearing the brunt of the outbursts.

Cries of "Mud ball Teddy!" are mostly amusing and harmless enough, but Watson was also famously caught on camera berating Scott in the final round of the Travelers Championship in 2013 after a triple bogey on the 16th hole.

Watson, who was leading at the time, blamed Scott after his tee shot found the water and his third shot flew over the green, the two-time Masters champion eventually finishing two shots outside of a play-off.

It is no wonder that the hashtag #prayforTedScott has become a regular sight on social media.

But for all of his faults, Watson deserves more credit than he receives for a record which includes two wins at Augusta National and now a second Northern Trust Open victory in the last three years at the revered Riviera Country Club.

Sunday's one-shot win over Adam Scott and Jason Kokrak means Watson has nine PGA Tour titles to his name, just one short of the career goal he set himself as an unknown from Bagdad, Florida.

It also lifted him from sixth to fourth in the world rankings, closer to the number one spot which could herald his retirement from the game.

"Yes, I would definitely consider it," Watson told a press conference following Sunday's win. "Probably can answer it about 99 per cent sure what I would do.

"It's funny, I've talked to some guys that are in their 40s, not mentioning any names, but are great champions.

"I talked to them and I said, what was your number. Because you know, retirement, I have to set a number somewhere.

"I have to set what I want and so I've always picked 40. Not that I want to retire. I'm always going to be at Augusta. They are going to have to kick me off Augusta. I'm going to be 80 struggling down the fairway.

"So when I say 'retirement', I'm still going to travel around the world and play in golf tournaments. It won't be the 15 (required for membership) on the PGA Tour.

"The goal setting is always there. The goal is to get better. First goal is to make the Tour. I made the Tour so then it was to win. Then I set a goal at 10 wins because I think that's a big stepping stone for this day and age on the PGA Tour.

"And when I get to 10 wins, then we'll bump it up a few. We won't go another 10, but we would bump it up a few. But I can't bump it up until I get there."

- Phil Casey, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent