By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Bubba Watson made the final of the Dell Technologies Match Play look as though he were on vacation all along. Watson won his second World Golf Championships title Sunday with the biggest blowout since the championship matched switched to 18 holes in 2011, a 7-and-6 victory over Kevin Kisner.
Watson wasn’t as sharp as he was in the semifinals against Justin Thomas, whom he beat in 16 holes to deny Thomas going to No. 1 in the world ranking. He didn’t have to be in the final. If not for missing a 4- foot birdie putt on the par-5 sixth, Watson would have won the first seven holes. Kisner had a lot to do with that. After escaping in 19 holes against Alex Noren in his semifinal match, Kisner didn’t put up much of a fight. He made four straight bogeys and only twice on the front nine was putting for birdie.
Watson had scheduled a family vacation out of the country on Sunday, which he had to postpone. Watson figured he hardly ever makes it this far in golf’s most fickle format, so it was a good problem to have. There was nothing fickle about his game, especially on the final day. Watson never trailed in the 28 holes he played Sunday, and he was never seriously threatened. The tougher match was against Thomas, the PGA champion who needed only to reach the championship match to replace Dustin Johnson at No. 1 in the world.
Watson went out to a 3-up lead on the front nine, and when Thomas closed to 1 down at the turn with his first birdie putt, Watson won two of the next three holes to regain control. Thomas didn’t make another birdie until the par-5 16th, and by then it was too late. Watson made his birdie from 3 feet for a 3-and-2 victory. Thomas said he was too consumed with what was at stake in the semifinals.
“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much. And that really sucked,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest. And I think you’re constantly getting questions about it with the media. But I need to be mentally stronger than that, and understand that it’s just a match.” Noren beat Thomas in the consolation match, 5 and 3.
One year after Watson disappeared from among the elite in golf, he has won his last two starts. He was No. 117 in the world when he arrived at Riviera, where he won for the third time in his career. With his 11th victory on the PGA Tour, he now is back up to No. 21.
And the two-time Masters champion added his name to the growing list of contenders at Augusta National. “I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully I can get this focus and my putter rolling like it is,” Watson said.
Watson played 109 holes over seven matches, going to the 18th hole just once when he halved his match with Julian Suri on Friday. Through it all, he said he wasn’t committed to only four or five shots. He was hitting high draws, low cuts, all the shots he created as a kid in the Florida Panhandle when he was just a boy with a club and a wild imagination.
He wouldn’t have imagined such an easy time against Kisner in the all-Georgia Bulldogs final that ended with the fabled “dog license” score in match play. A dog license in Britain used to cost seven shillings, six pence (referred to as 7 and 6).
Watson holed a 10-foot birdie on the opening hole, and then Kisner took care of the rest. His drive was short and to the right on the hill at No. 2, and he did well to get it just short of the green, failing to get up-and-down. Kisner then hit just inside the hazard and had to play up short of another hazard. Then, he found a bunker on the par-3 fourth hole. His next drive went right into the trees on the reachable par-4 fifth.
Watson missed his short birdie putt to win the sixth hole, but not to worry. Kisner’s next shot bounced off a spectator’s head and next to a fence, and he had to chip off loose soil across the green for another bogey. This can happen in match play, and Kisner saw it Saturday in his 8-and-6 victory over Ian Poulter. “I don’t know what was going on. It was just pitiful,” Kisner said. “I’ve just got to forget this 12 holes and get back to working on the things that got me here.”
Even in a final match that lacked any drama, Watson still managed to shed a few tears. His mother was with him in the gallery on the weekend, and they shared a warm embrace after he made a 7-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole to win the match. “It’s crazy to think about it,” Watson said. “I’ve got two World Golf Championships, and two majors. It’s unbelievable to think about that, giving my mom a hug. Six years old, having one golf club for a year, no
lessons. I can sit here and make up stories all day, but it’s absolutely remarkable that I’m able to life a trophy like this.”
As for that vacation? Watson was cryptic as ever. “I’m going on vacation tomorrow, no matter if it’s at home or wherever it is, it’s vacation,” he said. “Golf clothes will not be seen until next Saturday.”