Bubba Watson was 2 up with six to play versus Kevin Na in the first round-robin match of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday, but the defending champ let the victory slip away.
The notoriously fiery Watson actually had an opportunity to keep himself alive in the match on 18, but he elected to pick up his ball from the bunker and concede to Na.
But let’s back up first. Watson was 2 up before Na won three straight holes to take a 1-up lead with three to play. Watson squared the match with a birdie on 16, and they both made birdie on 17 to head to the final hole all square.
Watson, one of the longest hitters on Tour, nearly drove the par-4 18th green and ended up in the bunker short of it. Na, meanwhile, laid up. From 109 yards behind Watson, Na knocked his second shot to 10 feet away, putting the pressure on Watson in the green-side bunker. That’s where the trouble started.
Watson’s first shot from the sand got caught in the rough and rolled back in. His third shot was on the same path, but before his ball had a chance to fall back into the bunker he picked it up to concede the 1-up win to Na.
“He’s gonna pick it up, what?!” said Nick Faldo on the Golf Channel telecast, perplexed. “You are down there with the advantage [off the tee] and you are in your pocket.”
While it’s unlikely Watson would have holed his third bunker shot to save a 4 and make par — he still would have needed Na to miss his birdie putt to halve the match — there still was a chance, one he didn’t take. (Jordan Spieth holed out from the sand earlier in the day.)
“Him being able to drive this green, I feel like I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage, but then I applied the pressure inside 10 feet with a wedge,” Na said. “And he got a little unlucky with a lot of sand in that bunker there.”
Watson will have a tough time advancing out of group play with a loss already on his record. His second round-robin match is at 11:04 a.m. ET on Thursday versus Billy Horschel, who halved his first match against Spieth on Wednesday.