By Sam McPherson
It has been four years since Bubba Watson last won a major tournament. But with his second victory of the PGA Tour season, on Sunday in the WGC-Dell Match Play event at the Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, it looks like Watson may work his way into the conversation for the favorites at the Masters next month. Winning for the second time in five weeks can do that for any professional golfer, let alone a proven winner like Watson.
He also won the Genesis Open, formerly the Northern Trust Open, in February this year, making it the third time the lefty and fan favorite has won that event. With almost $3.3 million in earnings already this season, Watson is second on the money list behind Justin Thomas. He has 11 career wins on Tour now, including the 2012 and 2014 Masters as well as the 2014 WGC-HSBC Champions event.
To win the WGC-Dell Match Play event, Watson defeated fellow Americans Kevin Kisner, 7-and-6, in the finals and Thomas in the semifinals, 3-and-2. While Watson won $1.7 million for the effort, he also denied Thomas a chance to take over the world’s No. 1 ranking. American Dustin Johnson, who lost, 4-and-3, to Kisner in the third round of match play, retained the top spot on the rankings list for at least one more week.
In the finals against Kisner, Watson won the first five holes of the match, as his opponent struggled to make quality shots. After scoring some big match-play wins to get to the final, Kisner could not make a birdie until the 11th hole against Watson, and that made it easier for Watson to wrap up the contest relatively early. Prior to the semifinals against Thomas, Watson defeated Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the quarterfinals, 5-and-3, and American Brian Harman, 2-and-1, in the Round of 16.
Sweden’s Alex Noren dropped Thomas, 5-and-3, to take third place. The defending Masters champion, Sergio Garcia of Spain, lost his Round of 16 matchup to American Kyle Stanley, 3-and-1, while 2010 U.S. Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, also lost in the Round of 16 to England’s Ian Poulter, 2-and-1. Poulter would go on to lose to Kisner in the quarterfinals, 8-and-6, setting the stage for Watson’s eventual win.
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Next On The Tee: Houston Open
There is a $7 million total purse up for grabs at the Houston Open this week, as many players will try to fine tune their game in anticipation of the Masters the following week. American Russell Henley won the event last year, capturing the $1.26 million winner’s prize, while shooting 20-under par to win by three strokes over South Korea’s Kang Sung-hoon. Both those golfers return to the event in 2018 looking to replicate their successes.
In addition, the field includes past winners J.B. Holmes (2015), Matt Jones (2014) and D.A. Points (2013). The 2018 Houston Open also features Tour stars, such as four-time major champion Ernie Els, Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar, and three-time major winner Jordan Spieth. Plus, five-time major champ Phil Mickelson and 2016 British Open champion (not to mention Olympic silver medalist) Henrik Stenson also will be playing in the event. It’s a pretty loaded field in Houston this week.
The course for the event was co-designed by Rees Jones and David Toms, winner of the 2001 PGA Championship. Opened in 2003, the course has hosted the Houston Open every year since then. It features four different par-4 holes of over 450 yards each, including the closing two holes, where accuracy and length are going to be huge factors in determining which golfer can finish out on top.
The Golf Club of Houston course plays 7,457 yards long and is a par 72.
Favorites: Rickie Fowler, Matt Jones, Jordan Spieth
Players to Watch: Russell Henley, Kang Sung-hoon, Phil Mickelson
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.