It has been six years since a golfer won consecutive major championships on the PGA Tour, but reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson is hoping to recapture his magic from Augusta in this weekend’s U.S. Open. (Reuters)
PINEHURST, N.C. — Tiger Woods was the last player to follow a Masters victory with a U.S. Open victory in 2002. Standing Masters champion Bubba Watson missed the cut in 2012 at Olympic after wearing the Green Jacket home two months earlier.
It has been six years since a golfer won consecutive major championships on the PGA Tour.
“Tiger changed the game in many ways,” Watson said. “Tiger brought a different mindset to the game — working out, eating better. He brought the skill level around the world to another level. There are younger kids playing, younger kids training, as Tiger calls it. … The game is growing the right way. It’s harder because of the competition.”
In North Carolina ahead of Thursday’s 1:25 p.m. tee time with Adam Scott, Watson has missed the cut three of seven starts in the U.S. Open. In 11 starts this season, he has seven top-10 finishes and two victories, but he views the Open at Pinehurst No. 2 — site of the 1999 and 2005 championships — as a unique challenge for which a completely different game and mindset is required.
“It’s a tough test of golf,” said Watson, who is under par in just one of his 22 career rounds in the U.S. Open. “For me, I’m going to lay farther back than normal. … For me, it’s the second shot that’s going to matter most. I don’t see many birdies, especially if they put the pins in the corners.
“In four days, I’ll tell you how much I like it. Hopefully, it’s four days and not two days.”
The course is dramatically remade since Michael Campbell won in 2005. Architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore eliminated all the rough — how very U.S. Open-like — and created wider fairways and lengthened the course by 300 yards. The rough, often thick and layered multiple inches high, was replaced by natural waste areas with sand, groundcover and wire grass.
Watson last missed a cut in a PGA event at the 2013 PGA Championship. But history will have no bearing on his play this week, he insists. He noted in a practice round that the par-4, 528-yard 16th reminded him that Pinehurst is a one-of-a-kind beast.
“For me to hit a driver and have a 3-iron into a par-4, it’s a fun golf course,” Watson said. “The U.S. Open is different than anything we ever play. It brings out challenges we’re not used to. Challenges we can only take once a year.”
Watson’s best U.S. Open finish was fifth in 2007, when he shot 4-over in the third and fourth rounds. He said he doesn’t mind discussing the chance to match Woods with consecutive major victories, but the physical and emotional challenge ahead brings caution.
“Any time you have that chance, it’s been a good year because you’ve done well early,” Watson said. “Every championship is about putting and where they put the pins. Obviously, we like our chances. But it’s going to be a challenging golf course.”
There are only two par-5s on the course, including a 617-yard 10th. Watson said he could hit two 3-irons and still be left with more than 160 yards to the hole, which he doesn’t like but is ready to challenge himself.
“If you want to be a man and hit driver, you can do that,” Watson said. “You can play it aggressively or you can play it smartly, I guess you would say.”