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Bubba Watson rises to top of Phoenix Open leaderboard

Bubba Watson
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Bubba Watson throws hats to the crowd on the 16th hole during the second round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He shot 66 to get to -12 for tournament.

Scottsdale, Ariz.—The watchband on Bubba Watson’s wrist was a gleaming pearl white, while the face appeared to have more functions than a small weather station. It’s a Richard Mille watch—sorry, chronograph—and it’s an luxury model worth thousands.

That’s why it was so funny when Bubba delivered the punch line he’d set up after talking about how slow the pace of play was in the first two rounds of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. “It was five hours-plus yesterday, and I don’t know the time today because I don’t know how to read this watch,” Bubba deadpanned.

Watson wore a black visor with a bright green Ping logo on the front and a Richard Mille logo on the side. The high-end Swiss watch-maker is one of his sponsors.

“Just kidding,” Bubba said after the laughter faded. “I love this watch.” Bubba knew exactly what time it was, because he always seems to be on the clock. He has taken the whole charity concept that underpins the PGA Tour and is running with it. On Monday, he was visiting hospitals. After his round on Friday morning, he was scheduled to meet two families he had brought to the Phoenix Open, co-winners of his Bubba’s Biggest Fan video contest. After that, he and his entourage were heading off-campus to spend two hours loading snack packs for disadvantage youngsters.

The fact that Bubba was tied for the tournament lead with fresh-faced Aussie Matt Jones after the morning wave had completed play felt like an afterthought. Bubba Golf has been replaced by Bubba Inc., a force for good. The 2012 Masters champ is busy these days, and not just because he’s a husband and a dad. When someone joked that he didn’t seem happy for someone who was tied for the lead, he admitted, “I’m tired. It was a long day yesterday and a long day today.” Watson followed his opening-round 64 with a five-under 66. He bogeyed two of the last three holes on Friday, though. At the 9th, he hit a good approach shot that spun off the green and led to a closing bogey. Still, seven birdies is always a good day’s work.

He was particularly happy about his start off the 10th tee. “It was 8:06 in the morning, the back is not as loose as you want it to be, the weather is not as warm as you want it to be,” Bubba said. “But I hit a good tee shot and then hit my wedge in there close and made the putt. That got me going and confident with everything I did.”

It looks as if Watson, the pride of Bagdad, Fla., who now resides in Orlando, might be finally getting his feet back under him after that life-changing win at Augusta National. That was the fourth win of his PGA Tour career and, by the way, his most recent. His tee-to-green game is back on-line. At last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, he led the field in distance and greens hit in regulation but was last in birdies. A look at the season stats reveals the problem: He ranks second in distance off the tee and 165th in strokes gained putting. Nobody wins without putting well. Bubba’s putter may finally be warming up, and if so, TPC Scottsdale should be right up his alley.

Asked if he feels as if he should win on this power-hitter’s track, Watson replied, “I feel like I should win on every golf course. The golf courses don’t feel like I should. But once you make the PGA Tour, your game travels pretty well. Everything is just clicking now. I’m playing well, and the putts are dropping.”

Considering favorite son Phil Mickelson got off to a slow start, a marquee name and a personality like Bubba is just what the Phoenix Open. Bubba is popular here. He’s popular everywhere, for that matter, and he knows how to feed the crowd as well as play off its energy.

On Thursday, he tossed sunglasses to the fans in the stands along the par-3 16th, golf’s loudest party. On Friday, it was autographed visors, just like the one he was wearing. On the weekend, who knows?

Life is good in Bubba’s world, and he’s enjoying it. Maybe he’s matured a bit thanks to fatherhood, maybe he’s gotten wiser thanks to experience or maybe he’s simply learning how to handle his changed life as a Masters champion. “This whole year is about rejoicing,” he said after the first round. “I have to rejoice about what I have done on and off the course. I’ve been blessed.” He doesn’t need a fancy watch to know what time it is.

It’s Bubba time. Every day. Every minute.
PHOTO GALLERY: Waste Management Phoenix Open
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