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Bubba’s Back

Bubba Watson heads to The Players Championship with a shot at overtaking the World No. 1 ranking.  (Brandon Connelly)
Bubba Watson heads to The Players Championship with a shot at overtaking the World No. 1 ranking. (Brandon Connelly)

Three-and-a-half weeks after winning his second green jacket, Bubba Watson will return to action starting tomorrow at the Players Championship.

Watson arrives at TPC Sawgrass as one of four players with a chance to overtake the injured Tiger Woods as the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. Watson could go to No. 1 if he finishes alone in second place and Adam Scott doesn’t win. (Scott, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar also have mathematical chances to surpass Woods this weekend.)

In his pretournament news conference on Tuesday, Watson equated achieving world No. 1 status with winning a green jacket. But don’t lay your life savings on it happening come Monday – Watson has never finished better than 37th at the Players.

Bubba went on to say that not reaching No. 1 wouldn’t ruin his life or career, and cited Phil Mickelson as an example of a guy who’s doing just fine despite never having reached the world ranking’s pinnacle.

Judging from his activities in the wake of his second Masters victory, Watson seems more intent on becoming No. 1 in the hearts of the fans. In late April, he went home to Bagdad, Fla., visiting his former elementary, middle and high schools. He posed for photos, signed autographs and presented sizable checks – $15,000 to the elementary and middle schools and $35,000 to Milton High – to fund improvements. He even sprung for 450 pizzas and served slices to Milton’s students, all while sporting his green coat.

“The high school (kids) could care less who Bubba Watson is,” Watson observed on Tuesday. “They’re like, free pizza? Yeah, perfect. We like that guy.”

While Bubba has his critics – he has been panned for scolding his caddie, Ted Scott, when certain shots haven’t come off as planned, and even drew flak for pulling out of last week’s Wells Fargo Championship – he deserves props for his efforts to connect with everyday folks and give back financially following his Masters windfall.

Coincidentally, across the globe last week at something called the HSBC Golf Business Forum in Abu Dhabi, some of the industry’s prominent suits were bemoaning the lack of personality on the PGA Tour and players’ unwillingness to engage with fans.

Said Troon Golf CEO Dana Garmany, after recounting a past encounter with Arnold Palmer, “The trouble with today’s players is that they don’t feel the need to interact with spectators. Unlike Palmer, they don’t ‘get’ how much they owe to them.”

Although Bubba can be churlish, it seems to me that he possesses a good measure of Palmer’s common touch.


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