Bubba Watson drained a 12-footer on the 72nd hole for birdie and a one-shot victory.
Robert Beck/SI
Thursday, December 08, 2011

SAN DIEGO — Bubba Watson won the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Sunday because he bludgeoned the course into submission. He led the field in driving distance by five full yards over J.B. Holmes, went 13 under on the par 5s and went three under on the 18th alone on the weekend, including his improbable birdie Sunday.

Wait, check that — Watson won the Farmers because of his touch. He salvaged par from nine and a half feet on 17, and his delicate, downhill putt from 12 feet on 18 struck with perfect pace. That birdie meant Phil Mickelson needed to dunk his 72-yard third shot for an eagle and a tie, an unlikely outcome even for one of golf's premier wedge-men.

"Bubba played some terrific golf," said Mickelson, a three-time Farmers winner who was trying to win here for the first time since Rees Jones redesigned the South Course in 2001. "I really felt like, starting out, with the wind and the difficult conditions, if I shot something in the 60s, I thought it would be enough."

It wasn't. After parking his third shot to four feet behind the hole on 18 — with caddie Jim Mackay tending the pin (video) — and rolling in the birdie putt, Mickelson carded a three-under 69, his fourth straight round in the 60s. That was only good enough for 15 under and solo second, a shot behind Watson. He is still stuck at 38 Tour wins, as he has been since the Masters.

Watson (71-65-69-67) now has two Tour wins, this one and Hartford last year. As he did after his first win, he shed tears and acknowledged thinking about his father, a Vietnam veteran who died of cancer last year.

"It just shows I can do it," said Watson, who led the field in greens in regulation (81.94 percent), followed by Mickelson (76.39 percent). "I've done it twice now. I'm only like 50 [wins] behind Phil and 80 behind Tiger, so they better watch out."

Dustin Johnson fired a 66, the second best score of the day, and tied for third, three back, with the Venezuelan sensation Jhonattan Vegas. A week after winning the Bob Hope, Vegas, needing at least a birdie on the 18th, rinsed his second shot and bogeyed.

D.A. Points fired a 67 to finish fifth.

"I worked this winter to work on my mind, to be more focused," Watson said. "To be worried about what I'm doing and not what everybody else is doing. The guy I was playing with, Vegas, was playing great. Phil was playing great behind us."

Watson makes fun of himself for being a basket case, but he knows his weakness well and has worked at being able to sooth himself when things don't go well. His caddie, Ted Scott, also deserves credit. It was Scott who picked up Watson after the bomber bogeyed the par-3 16th hole Saturday, and his ensuing birdie-eagle finish was huge.

"It's just me and you out here," Scott kept telling Watson on Sunday, a day when Watson later admitted he was as nervous as he was for his first victory, at the Travelers.

"I've got a lot of issues," Watson said. "I'm always talking to myself."

Hunter Mahan, playing with Mickelson in the final threesome, never found a rhythm, shooting 73 to drop into a tie for sixth with Anthony Kim (72) and Nick Watney (63). The 2009 Farmers winner, Watney fired a record 28 on the back, his first nine.

Bill Haas, the leader for much of the week, shot a three-over 75 to drop into a tie for ninth place.

Tiger Woods also shot 75 and tied for 44th.

Sunday proved a game of one-upmanship between the two oldest players in the last two groups, with Watson, 32, making birdies and Mickelson, 40, watching from back in the fairway and gamely trying to keep pace with his Ryder Cup teammate.

On Saturday, Mickelson praised Watson for his creative shot-making, a shared trait almost as much as their left-handed swings and preternatural knack for killing the par 5s.

On Sunday, both players birdied the par-5 18th, 13th and ninth holes, and the par-3 11th, where the back-right pin was particularly lefty friendly. The difference? Phil failed to birdie the par-5 sixth, where he missed a 12-footer and had to settle for par.

Still, he put up a fight that would have been good enough most weeks. His 15-under score would have won or forced extra holes in six of the last 10 Farmers.

Phil fans will not soon forget Mickelson's 20-foot eagle putt on 13, which was barely moving when it peered over the front edge and yet somehow lipped out, his ball taking an unkind, 90-degree right turn around the back of the hole.

"I really thought I made that putt," he said. "It didn't go in on the lip; it looked like it was going in on the center, and it didn't drop. But that stuff happens."

His 162-yard approach on 14 hit the bank in front of the green and bounced back into the front bunker, leading to a bogey that dropped him two behind. After a par on 16, he laced his drive 333 yards down the fairway on the par-4 17th hole before pacing off his 114-yard approach shot, which he smoothed to within 38 inches of the cup. He tapped that in for birdie to get to 14 under, tied with Vegas and just a shot behind Watson.

That set up the theatrics on 18, one of the West Coast's great risk-reward holes. Watson's strange, clutch birdie, when he fanned his second shot way left but made birdie from the lip of the greenside bunker, salted away the victory.

"I'm excited because I can tell that my game's coming around," Mickelson said. "I can tell that I'm starting to hit more shots, that I'm starting to see them a little bit easier. My putting feels great. My short game has been sharp, so I'm excited about the prospects for this year and the rest of the West Coast [stretch of tournaments].

"I think it's important to try to get a W sometime here in the next few weeks," he added, "because I need a little bit of momentum heading into Augusta."

Watson now has that momentum, and Augusta has to be a tantalizing target for a player of his ability, a man who at 32 seems to be figuring out how to not beat himself.

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