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9:14PM

For Bubba, life and golf great on the Riviera

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — He kept dropping weight instead of putts. “I just wanted to get healthy,” said Bubba Watson. He also wanted to get his confidence back, play golf with the strength, the imagination and the verve that made him one of the sport’s best, made him a two-time Masters champion.

There was no full disclosure from Watson on Sunday when he won for the first time in two years, at Riviera Country Club, naturally, for a third time. But there were tears of joy.

Ben Hogan, the Hawk, and Lloyd Mangrum, the closer, won three times at historical Rivera. Now, Bubba becomes part of a memorable trio.

And whatever Watson’s ailment — “No worse than a paper cut,” he fibbed — it has been conquered.

So have his doubts. And in the process, so was an excellent field in the tournament now called the Genesis Open.

It was a predictably unpredictable final round at the Riv, with the wind coming off the Pacific less than a mile away, three different players in the lead at one time or another and, in the end, Watson, with a shot around tree branches at seven and then a shot out of a bunker and into the cup at 14, winning by two shots.

Bubba had a tough front nine, one over with three bogies, but was three-under on the back for a two-under 69 and a 72-hole score of 12-under 272. That was two strokes lower than Kevin Na and Tony Finau, who also had 69s. Patrick Cantlay, briefly in first as was Na, finished tied for fourth at 275.

Phil Mickelson, a multiple winner here over the years, had a three-under 68 for 276 and a tie for sixth. For someone four months from his 47th birthday, Mickelson has had an impressive three tournaments, tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, tied for second at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and now tied for sixth in the Genesis, the old Los Angeles Open.

Mickelson, the righthander who plays lefty, also had an explanation why Watson, the lefthander who plays lefty, has done so well at Riviera, with victories in 2014, 2016 and now 2018: Bubba is able to work the ball one way or the other.

“Yeah,” said Watson, “around here it’s all about visualization. It’s all about seeing your shots, using your imagination.”

Yet, to hear him talk about when he was down to 160 pounds (he usually is around 200), Watson, 39, never imagined he would win again.

“I had some issues, some medical issues,” he confided. “But it was nothing, nothing.”

It was more than nothing, or Watson would not have thought about quitting the Tour — something his wife, Angie, knew he wouldn’t do. Or she wouldn’t let him do. 

“My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf,” he said. “I would rather be healthy than play golf, so that’s what I was focusing on. I was focusing on the wrong things. Pitiful me, not how beautiful my life was.

“I got down in weight. My ball speed, my swing, everything had changed, right? And now we’re back to healthy. We’re back to putting on some weight and working out and doing the right things. That’s what’s changing it. I got better. I started eating better, got away from stress.”

His weeks in Los Angeles and Hollywood during the tournament, no matter what the name (Nissan, Northern Trust, Genesis) have been anything but stressful. Four years ago, in 2014, he finished 64-64. Then two years later he won while filming a segment of “Girl Meets World.” This time, on Friday, he played in the NBA Celebrity game, getting a jumper blocked by Tracy McGrady.

After his tenth Tour win, Watson was both elated and defensive.

“I’m not talking about the illness no more,” he said. “I’m here, I’m healthy. There are people a lot sicker in this world.”

However, there aren’t many happier.

“Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida, would ever get to 10 wins. Let’s be honest,” Watson said. “Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt, you know?”

What we don’t know was exactly what ailed Bubba Watson. Not that it matters one way or another after the way he won, once again, at Riviera.

9:11PM

Bubba‘s World: NBA celebrity games, great golf at Riviera

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — One day he’s getting a jump shot slammed back into his face. The next day he’s slamming putts into the cup for birdies, even an eagle. This is the world of Bubba Watson, philosopher, celebrity and, most of all, golfer.

So a few hours after, wham, Bubba found out how good the NBA players are, not that he wasn’t aware — Tracy McGrady stuffed Watson’s attempt Friday night in the Celeb All-Star game at Staples Center — we found out how good Watson was in his chosen profession. Not that we weren’t aware.

Bubba has won the Masters, not once but twice. Bubba has won what we knew as the Los Angeles Open but is now the Genesis Open, not once but twice. And with a one-shot lead after Saturday’s third round, he’s in excellent position to win it yet again.

“I love Los Angeles,” he could be heard telling a TV reporter. “Movie stars, basketball games, everything’s here.” Including Riviera Country Club, the home of stars, where Watson shot a six-under-par 65 on Day Three of the Genesis for a 10-under total of 68-70-65—205.

That gave him a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay, who had a 69 for 204. Tied for third at 205 are Cameron Smith, who shot a 65; Kevin Na, who shot 67; Tony Finau, 68; and Graeme McDowell, 70. The big guy who won last year, who’s No. 1 in the world rankings, who supposedly had no chance after 36 holes, Dustin Johnson, shot 64 and is at 207.

Bubba, unlike Phil Mickelson (who’s at 208 after a 67) or Ted Potter (who won last week at Pebble but missed the cut this week) is a lefthander who plays lefthanded. He’s also a self-taught golfer — not a lot of golf academies in Bagdad, Fla., and probably not in Baghdad, Iraq, either — who obviously is an excellent athlete. And fine observer.

When someone wondered about the ebbs and flows of the game, Watson, 39, whose last PGA Tour victory was right here in 2016 (the event then was known as the Northern Trust), had a ready answer.

“When you’re talking about this level, these great players, the PGA Tour’s the best in the world," he said. "Look at the guy who won last week (Potter). He can hang with anybody on a given day.

“Did he make the cut here? No? OK. There you go. So he missed the cut. I don’t check leaderboards unless I’m on top. So I’ll check it tonight. Snapchat that!”

Tour players travel, physically (on to another tournament) and mentally.

“Y’all move on quickly,” said Watson, “and we’re still trying to hang onto our trophy. Every week is a new golf tournament. We don’t ever have a break on the PGA Tour anymore. So you don’t have time to keep living the dream and have that three-month break where you can celebrate your victory.”

What Watson celebrated in the sunshine at Riviera — “This golf course stood the test of time,” he reminded about a place unchanged in some 90 years — was his start Saturday. He powered his second shot to within inches of the hole on the 503-yard par-five first.

“It calms you down real fast when you tap in for an eagle.”

A tap-in Saturday but Friday night, among singers (Justin Bieber) and retired NBA players (McGrady was one) in one of the additions to the NBA's All-Star weekend, no tip-ins. And a rude bit of reality.

“We just ran up and down the court,” said Watson of his basketball action. He had played in the game previously. “Some guys wanted to be MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment. I was trying not to get hurt.”

Watson made two free throws, so he didn’t go scoreless.

“I’ll go ahead and say it,” he advised. “When I saw Tracy McGrady come at me, all I thought about was — when bad golfers stand on the tee and they see water to the right, where does the ball go? Way to the left.

“So when I saw him, all I saw was this is my moment to get hurt; this big tank was about to hit me. And I was like, just knock it into the stands. He didn’t touch me, so it was good.”

As was Saturday’s round at Riviera. Swish!

8:24AM

Tiger does nothing right and too much wrong

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — This wasn’t progress. This was regress. This was agony. This was Tiger Woods making bogies with the consistency he once made birdies and making us wonder, really, if he’ll ever be a shadow of the man who once owned golf.

Here at Riviera Country Club, where legends played, where Ben Hogan and Tom Watson won, where Humphrey Bogart and Dean Martin belonged. Where at 17 Tiger made his debut in a pro tournament.

Where Friday, in the second round of the Genesis Open, neé the Los Angeles Open, Woods figuratively couldn’t do a thing right and did far too much wrong.

A beautiful day in southern California, sunshine, blue skies. A beautiful day unless you were Tiger Woods — who grew up nearby — or his faithful fans, who hadn’t given up hope but, after his second round in the Genesis, may change their minds.

Woods shot a five-over par 76. He had eight bogies — six in a stretch of eight holes, the sixth through the 13th— and only three bogies. He finished with a 36-hole total of 148, six over par and four above the cut line.

The final two rounds of the Genesis will be played without Tiger, who in his post-round comments only emphasized the obvious, saying, “I didn’t really play that well today.” No, he didn’t.

Yes, it was only 18 holes out of a wonderful career, and he missed weeks because of his back injury before coming back at the end of 2016. But it was a sad exhibition, one reminiscent of the performances of Willie Mays and Joe Namath, Hall of Famers, near the end of their playing days.

Golf isn’t baseball or football. You can play seemingly forever. But rare is the person who can continue to play well. Woods is 42, a critical age, especially for someone attempting a comeback. He said his body at least is healthy, pain-free. But the years might prove insurmountable.

Woods was 13 shots behind the tri-leaders, Patrick Cantlay, the one-time UCLA star; Graeme McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; and Sam Saunders, who is Arnold Palmer’s grandson. They’ll have to be the attractions for the final two rounds.

Tiger? He announced Thursday he would enter next week’s Honda Classic, when the PGA Tour shifts from the West Coast to Florida and maybe Woods will advance. Or maybe he won’t.

“I missed every tee shot, and I did not putt well,” Woods said about Friday. “Didn’t feel very good on the greens and consequently never made a run. I knew I had to make a run on the back side, and I went the other way.”

He’s not tournament-ready. Practicing at home in Florida is different than competing in an event in California. Two weeks ago, to his credit, Woods finished 23rd at the Farmers Open in San Diego. But he had won there eight times over years. Riviera is one of the few courses he’s played frequently where he’s never won.

“The game speed amped up is so different from playing at home," he said. "I’ve got to play more tournaments.”

And spend more time playing them. The Genesis was only the 17th tournament in which he failed to make the cut in a pro career that started in 1997, but for a while he went months without missing a cut.

“One of the hallmarks of my whole career is I’ve always hit the ball high with my iron shots, and I have not done that" Woods said. "I think the whole week has been very successful for (the Tiger Woods) foundation, as a tournament.

“Unfortunately I’m just not able to play on the weekend.”

Unfortunate for him. Unfortunate for the Genesis. Unfortunate for CBS-TV, which would have had big ratings with Tiger on the tube. People are curious anytime he plays.

“I haven’t played golf in years,” said Woods. “I’m starting to come back, and it’s going to take a little time.”

Or perhaps more time than he has.

9:11PM

Tiger needs something impressive to make cut

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — The old Tiger, meaning when he was the young Tiger, had his bad shots, the ones that clattered in the trees — like his ball Thursday at the 11th hole at Riviera — or buried in the rough. But more often than not, he also had his miracle shots.

Hey, you don’t win 14 majors and 79 tournaments overall if you can’t pull rabbits out of hats, or more specifically turn bogies into birdies.

But this Tiger no longer is young. Or as agile. Or, so far, as competitive. This Tiger keeps trying to wake up the echoes, then leaves us — and himself — with explanations instead of positive results.

He wasn’t terrible in the opening round of the 2018 Genesis Open (yes, it once was the L.A. Open). Except on the 11th, his second hole of the day, when (you’ve read this before) he hit one dead right off the tee, then (you haven’t read this before) lost the ball among the eucalyptus and, whap, had a double-bogey seven.

After starting with a birdie three on the risk-reward 10th hole, which is short (315 yards) and perplexing (do you try to drive it or lay up?).

All three members of their elite threesome, Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, had birdies. But 17 holes later, Thomas had a two-under 69, McIlroy an even par 71 and Woods a one-over 72.

That left him six shots back of Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau, which after 18 holes is not that important. But Tiger also is one above the early cut line, which is that important. He needs something impressive Friday, say a 68 or 69, to play the last two rounds.

There’s an understanding. This Tiger is 42 (or 19 years older than Thomas, who in 2017 was Player of the Year). This Tiger is returning after years of back pain and several surgeries. This Tiger finds success as much in progress as he does in his standing on the scoreboard.

Maybe Woods will win again — although probably not this week, thus remaining without a victory at Riviera, the wonderful course in a coastal canyon a mile or so from Santa Monica. Maybe Woods never will win again.

Someone post-round asked Thomas how he compared this Tiger with the earlier Tiger, the one who crushed everybody within putting distance.

“I’ve never seen (the other Tiger), so it’s hard for me to say,” Thomas explained. “I would say he’s pretty good. He’s obviously not driving it well. He’s not hitting the shots that he wants. He got it around one-over.

“So I think when he was playing (a lot) and not on all the time off, (Thursday’s round) could have been one or two under.”

Could have. But wasn’t. And we have to wonder whether it ever will be. Now he’s the old champion, facing the new champs. They have their rotten days now and then — last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson, the world's No. 1, triple-bogeyed the fifth hole — but more often than not, they have their brilliant days.

Days that Woods had for more than a decade. Days gone by.

Woods’ card on Thursday was a portrait of erratic golf, five birdies, four bogies and that triple bogey.

“I made really silly bogies out there,” was the Woods assessment of his round. “But overall I thought I hung in there well and grinded.” (That’s golfing vernacular for finding a ball and hitting it again. And again).

And trying to persuade yourself there’s a reason to smile.

“No one’s low out there,” he said, which is accurate only if you don’t consider four-under a low score. ”It’s too hard. The greens are getting a little bouncy (because of the poa annua grass on coastal courses). Those short ones are not easy.”

Naturally, as all golfers are, Woods is optimistic.

“I’m not that far off to really putting some good numbers out there,” he said. “If I can just clean up my card, I can start making my way up the board.”

If he can clean up his card.

8:50PM

SportsXchange: Johnson rolls to Genesis Open win, grabs No. 1 ranking

By Art Spander
SportsXchange

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — So many negatives for Dustin Johnson, the collapse at the 2010 U.S. Open, the six months away from golf for "personal issues" — was it a suspension for cocaine? — the three-putt bogey at the 72nd hole that kept him out of a playoff for the 2015 U.S. Open. 

What was wrong with the guy? So much talent. So many near misses. So much criticism about his personal life. 

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2017 SportsXchange