This past weekend the golf world was reminded once again that there is a man head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to playing the sport of golf his way.
It wasn't Rory McIlroy, who spent an early part of his week defending the one thing every American hopes to achieve and battles with it on a daily basis (getting in shape and staying there), or Dustin Johnson, who got off to another hot start at a big golf tournament only to fall short over the weekend. It wasn't Adam Scott, who used the putter for good and pulled off the clutch shot of the weekend, even if it left him a shot short of the eventual champion.
That honor belonged to Bubba Watson.
We have been fed "Bubba Golf" for years now, introduced to us with the face of a fun-loving guy, eventually evolving into wherever it is you, and your golf loyalty, stand when it comes to the man who needs to be introduced by first name only.
The most polarizing player in the game did what he tends to do when the PGA Tour finds itself on a golf course that requires shot-making and creativity. He won. It was Bubba's ninth PGA Tour victory in his last 116 starts after beginning his career 0-for-121. Bubba has transformed himself from a one-trick pony to one of the most talented and clutch performers on the PGA Tour, and his consistency has been remarkable (20 top-10s in his last 44 PGA Tour starts, including five wins).
When Watson's tee shot found the fairway on the 71st hole, a 334-yard poke on the par-5 that Watson had already birdied twice earlier in the week, we all knew it was over. Even the announcing crew for CBS called for a must-make for Scott, a hole ahead and over the green at the famed 18th. (Scott would go ahead and chip that in on cue, adding to the drama and the Hollywood-ness of a Sunday that saw so many big names with a chance to win before the final round got going.)
It's what Bubba does these days. He uses his driving to an advantage that few have in this game, then polishes it up with laser-like irons and a short game that has never been given the proper credit it deserves.
And after the drama on the course concluded on Sunday, Bubba took to the microphone, the most unpredictable part of his game these days. For all the golf shots that Bubba will attempt in a 72-hole golf tournament, from taking a line on the par-5 13th at Augusta National that still seems insane almost two years later to making a must-make bunker shot on the final hole of the HSBC Champions that same year to force a playoff, it's the press conference moments that seem to be the most erratic.
And that's when it hit me; Bubba Golf isn't just reserved for his time between the ropes. For Bubba, it spills over into his entire life, from the silly videos he produced in his earlier professional days to his perplexing choices at times behind the mic, most of the time unprovoked.
At the Waste Management Open earlier this month, Bubba was asked in a pre-tournament press conference, simply, "Why do you like this golf course?" It was a straightforward question for Watson, who prior to his third-round 73 this year at TPC Scottsdale, had never shot a single round over par at that event.
His answer was confusing but also so Bubba.
"I don't like it. I'm not going to PC it. I don't like it at all," he told reporters. "I just mentioned why I'm here. I've got three beautiful sponsors that love it here."
Sometimes, Watson doesn't know when to say when at the microphone.
To Bubba's point, the narrative did go from, "I don't like the changes to this golf course," to "BUBBA WATSON HATES THE WASTE MANAGEMENT OPEN."
It wasn't what Watson said, but it was another moment that Watson brought on himself. Instead of just saying he likes TPC Scottsdale, a place he has had a ton of success on in the past, he opened a can of worms that followed him all four days in Phoenix. He got booed, he got heckled, and it most likely was the reason he didn't play as solid as he has in the past at that event (to his credit, he still finished T-14, but that's coming after consecutive T-2s at the WaMo).
In his press conference following his win at Riviera this past Sunday, it was that moment that Bubba was asked about, and it was that part of Waste Management week that has stayed with Watson.
"I'm not over it. It's heartbreaking that a city or community or local press would put a headline to spur on a bad image," he told reporters. "So it's hurtful."
So the question isn't whether Bubba is worthy of the criticism he gets in instances like this it's why he brings it on himself? From Paris to the long-drive contest at the PGA Championship to comments like these, why is it that Bubba loves being so ... honest? Is it such a bad thing? Isn't it what we ask all the time from our athletes that they avoid the media-training answers and give us something we can actually chew on?
It's easy for the media to take small shots at Bubba. To be fair, he makes it so easy at times. But golf is way, way better when Bubba Watson is involved. His creativity, his candor, and the knowledge that he might just say something people don't want to hear means that not only is Bubba a must-watch on the golf course, but he's a must-listen behind the microphone.
Love him or hate him, Bubba is now one win away from double-digits on the PGA Tour and has put together a Bubba Alley of sorts with his multiple wins at Riviera, Augusta National and TPC River Highlands. The last time he won the Northern Trust he went on to win two more times that same season, including a second green jacket.
Which Bubba will we get when the golf world arrives in Augusta in less than six weeks? Who knows, but the sport is better if he's involved, on and off the course, and he showed that Sunday at Riviera.
Bacon: Bubba was asked this by the assembled media after his win on Sunday and clarified his thoughts on "retiring after 10 wins."
"When I say "retirement," it's just, I'm still going to travel around the world and play in golf tournaments," he told reporters. "It won't be PGA Tour; it won't be the 15 on the PGA Tour, if that ever happened. I'm not good enough yet to make that happen. So got a lot of working to do on the mental game."
He also said of returning to Augusta National for the rest of his life: "I'm always going to be at Augusta. They are going to have to kick me off Augusta. I'm going to be 80 struggling down the fairway," which is pretty much what every golfer on the planet would say if he had a chance to be a returning champion, so at least he isn't turning down a Masters invite if and when he takes a couple of steps back from the game.
I think this is going to be something we see a lot more with pro golfers of this generation. I've mentioned it before, but the money is so massive with these pro golfers that grinding week in and week out when you get to be 40, 44 or 47 won't even be necessary (or appealing).
Look at the career money earners on the PGA Tour; Sergio Garcia is ninth ($40 million), Adam Scott is 10th ($40 million) and Bubba is 16th ($33 million). Rory, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are all in the top 50 all-time in earnings on the PGA Tour, and none is even close to hitting that 30-year-old mark.
It might be a long time before there's another 45-year-old golfer with the energy of Phil Mickelson.
Eric Risberg / AP
So, what is the motivation once you've won what you've wanted to win on Tour? For every Phil Mickelson, who at 45 seems to have the energy of a 25-year-old, there are names like Steve Stricker, who are happy to take a step back and enjoy the other parts of life. It's not important to them to be out on Tour 27 weeks a year when they can enjoy life and be in the spotlight a dozen or so times and then go on with a regular life. Some of these young guys will play until they're 50, but I think the ones that aren't chasing careers records or something along the lines of a career Grand Slam could hang up the spikes at 41 or 42.
As much as we all want to be Rory or Rickie, professional golf is, at the end of the day, a job, and retiring early is always the goal for people with jobs. Spending the last 60 years of your life on a boat with a cold drink and some good tunes wouldn't be all bad, especially when you have an open invite to any tournament you want whenever you get sick of being on the water.
@shanebacon If you can make a 30 for 30 on any golf topic, what would it be?
Bacon: I guess the easiest answer is the 1999 Ryder Cup team. I think diving into something like that with open conversations with all involved would be something amazing to see cut together, and I think it would be interesting to hear what guys like Jose Maria Olazabal have to say about what happened on the 17th green this many years later. (Is he still bitter? Has time put the celebration and insanity that ensued into a better perspective?)
A lot could be made from that Ryder Cup.
Of course, the '99 British Open would be pretty great to see under a microscope. I think an in-depth look at the 1991 PGA Championship with John Daly winning would be pretty incredible, and I could use a little bit of that documentary magic to remind people of just how insane it was that the ninth alternate won a damn major championship. I'm not sure how much they could pull in terms of footage, but I would love to see something on the '66 U.S. Open, when Arnold Palmer lost that seven-shot lead in the final round (it would be heartbreaking but also interesting).
But the answer for me would be the six straight USGA championships that Tiger Woods won, which FS1 did last year before the U.S. Open. People just don't realize how insane that was and still don't totally grasp it. From 1991-93 Tiger wins three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs (only one other player has ever won multiple Junior Ams, and that was some kid named Jordan Spieth, in '09 and '11), and then he reeled off three straight U.S. Amateurs, the event I still say is the hardest golf tournament in the world to win, professional or otherwise.
That's the most dramatic moment in golf that people forget about, in my opinion, and one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of the game.
It's a feat that Tiger himself has watered down considering what he did in the majors once he turned pro but one that I really enjoy going back and reliving.
@shanebacon where do you fall on the is lifting good for golfers argument?
Bacon: I think that if you are working out responsibly, which all these guys are, it's an absolute must in 2016.
What I find so funny about all the golf injury talk is how the lone example of golf injury that people point to is Tiger. He's it. That's all you ever hear when people bring up working out and golf.
Rory is doing squats and deadlifts? He better watch it or he might become the next Tiger!
Just because Tiger Woods got hurt doesn't mean every other golfer who works out will.
I found the whole thing comical, to be honest. Every professional golfer I know (and all the ones I don't) work out. They all are doing something. It might not be as visible as what Rory does, but that is the image that Rory and his team want to give off. They want McIlroy to be known as an athlete, not a golfer. It's why all these Nike commercials are splicing together moments of Rory doing something in the gym and the technology being produced. It's a brilliant strategy, really, and something that Rory is obviously passionate about.
I did CrossFit for a time a few years back, and it wasn't for me. It was too back-heavy and too much on that area of my body that I thought might affect my golf game. But also, I didn't have a personal trainer who I pay a lot of money to making sure that everything I'm doing is exactly how I should be doing it, correcting every single thing I do wrong to avoid injury.
If you've read Hank Haney's book, you know that some of the things Woods was doing, at least according to Haney, were way more advanced and dangerous to the body than what someone like Rory could do in the gym with a barbell and a couple of 45s. But that is always the example we go back to.
Tiger hurt himself working out, so these golfers must be stopped!
Rory is fine, as are all the other hundreds (and thousands you've never heard of) professionals who spend countless hours working on their bodies to get every single ounce out of themselves.
This is golf in 2016, and it isn't changing.
@shanebacon Any chance Phil gets a W at Honda or Doral?
1.) U.S. Open (maybe "fair" doesn't immediately pop up in your head, but I think in terms of someone having to play 72 holes without losing focus for a single moment, the U.S. Open tends to provide us with the best champion and the most deserving)
3.) British Open (weather plays such a factor with draws the first two days that sometimes a player can just get unlucky with their tee times)
4.) PGA Championship
@shanebacon If you looped on any of the professional tours, give me 3 you'd love to work for and why.
Bacon: Honestly, I would love to get a chance to carry Dustin Johnson's bag for a bit. I think with his level of talent, it would just be cool to walk four days with him and really see his thought process and way of going about each event, each hole and each shot.
I could see looping for Lexi Thompson being pretty fun, considering how she can hit shots that most players on the LPGA Tour can't. And then Peter Jacobson. How could that not be fun? I'd probably feel like I should be paying him for the four days that would involve.
@shanebacon you can only play golf in one state for the rest of your life. Which do you pick?
Bacon: My initial thought here was this is a battle between California and New York, with California being home to 11 of the top 100 best courses on the Golf Digest list and New York boasting 13 of them. But then you have to start thinking realistically and tell yourself, of those amazing, beautiful, historic golf courses, how many am I going to get to play each year? One? Two? Zero?
Call me crazy, but I'm really leaning towards Oregon. I could buy a house up there somewhere north of Bandon Dunes, go play those four gems whenever I wanted, and enjoy the rest of what the state has to offer, like Tetherow and Pumpkin Ridge and Aspen Lakes.
I also think the state I live in, Arizona, wouldn't be a bad call. Sure, you won't be teeing it up at any U.S. Open venues any time soon, but with all the great golf in Scottsdale and all the amazing courses up north in the Flagstaff area, you'd never get bored and would have so many different options to pick from.
Texas, Florida, Illinois ... it's amazing how many states and how so many great golf courses, and we almost forget about how good some of these B-tier courses are.
I've always said, a great course is awesome to play, but does it beat 18 holes on a municipal course with your three best friends, some good tunes and cold drinks? Isn't company just as important as conditions? I think so. But that's why the debate is fun. Maybe you would much rather play Cypress Point with three members you've never met, and that's absolutely fine. It would be an experience. I played St. Andrews the second time around with three Swedish golfers that spoke minimal English. I didn't have a bad time at all, it was just different than being out there yucking it up with my uncle, dad and best buddy.
So maybe Arizona is my answer. It's home, it's comfortable, and I could play 365 days a year without worry of weather.
And hey, I could still go to Scotland! You can't take my Scotland away from me!
Bacon: I'm just happy to see him upright and able to make a move with a golf club again. A healthy Tiger Woods is good for business, and fun for the game of golf. Tell me, would anything make golf more relevant than a real, serious comeback for Tiger, one where he can actually play pain-free and contend occasionally? Absolutely not.
Welcome back to the front page of every golf website on the planet, Tiger Woods. Good to see you again.
Shane Bacon is a regular contributor to FOXSports.com's golf coverage. Follow him on Twitter at @shanebacon.