Bubba Watson returns to top at Genesis Open

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Like any great Hollywood stage, Riviera Country Club is where superstars mix with bit-part players. For every Dustin Johnson or Phil Mickelson who wins here, so too does a John Merrick or a Rory Sabbatini. The 2018 Genesis Open at Riviera promised a star turn thanks to an impressive cast that included not just Mickelson and Johnson, but Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

And amid all of those more polished icons, Bubba Watson stole the show.

Watson claimed his third win at the Genesis Open, shooting a Sunday 69 to edge Kevin Na and Tony Finau by two strokes to earn $1,296,000. His 12-under 272 total brought his first victory since the Genesis in 2016 and his 10th overall on the PGA Tour, a mark that he once famously said was a goal that might prompt thoughts of retirement.

On Sunday he made clear that he won’t be riding off into the sunset any time soon.

“You have to remember, my goal was very simple: make the PGA Tour. When you get to the Tour, you want to win,” he said. “Double-digit wins? I am thrilled. Nobody thought Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Florida, could ever get to 10 wins. Let’s be honest. No lessons. Head case. Hooking the ball. Slicing the ball. Can’t putt. Somehow we’re here.”

“I have to set a new goal,” he added, laughing.

The two-time Masters champion admitted that he considered quitting as he battled issues with his health and game for the past two years

“I was close. My wife was not close.” he said. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. I was focusing on the wrong things. You know, pitiful me, not on how beautiful my life was.”

Watson is a player who has his safe spaces. Of his 10 Tour victories, two came at Augusta National, another two at the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands and now three at Riviera, where the highly-strung left-hander is uncommonly relaxed. Perhaps that owes to a wealth of extra-curricular activities that allow Watson’s childlike exuberance to blow off steam. His schedule during the week included participating in the NBA All-Star Game festivities, appearing on a car show with Jay Leno and catching a taping of Big Bang Theory. Somewhere in there he found time to play four rounds of quality golf.

“It gives me something else to do,” he said. “It freed me up where I don’t think about the negative. I get to think about hanging out with cool people.”

The coolest guy in the field at Riviera drew huge galleries for the first two days, but rounds of 72-76 meant Woods spent the weekend at home in Florida. That’s where McIlroy headed after his final-round 68 to tie for 20th. Like Woods, McIlroy is playing a home game at this week’s Honda Classic at PGA National.

“It will be nice to get home and sleep in my own bed for a couple weeks,” he said.

Mickelson made a strong run at winning a third Genesis Open of his own Sunday, but was derailed by back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16. He finished T-6. A third consecutive top-10 was cold comfort to a man whose victory drought has lasted almost five years.

“I think it will be important for me, if I want to go into Augusta with the expectation of winning again, that I win before then,” he said.

Like Mickelson, Watson’s mind is also turning toward Georgia in April.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m trending in the right direction,” he said. “I always feel like I have a chance at Augusta.”

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