While the return of Tiger Woods has been the big story, Bubba Watson will also enter the Hero World Challenge with a chip on his shoulder.
With less than 24 hours remaining before the opening tee time at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods has dominated most of the headlines this week — and with good reason. The 14-time major champion is set to make his first competitive appearance in more than a year, and with a new sponsor and some new equipment, all eyes are on him.
But Tiger isn’t the only golfer with something to prove this week. Defending champion Bubba Watson, another one of the nine major winners in the 18-man field, would also love to close out his 2016 on a high note.
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While it hasn’t been a bad year for Watson, his play has certainly slipped — so far, he’s notched just two podium finishes, compared to eight last year and seven in 2014. The fact that both of those finishes came in the early part of the year doesn’t help matters; in fact, Watson hasn’t notched a top 10 at a full-field PGA Tour event since his win at the Northern Trust Open back in February. This inconsistency was a big reason for his exclusion from the U.S. Ryder Cup team, though he did contribute to the American victory as one of Davis Love III’s vice-captains.
While the World Challenge won’t count in the FedEx Cup or on the money list, a win could be of major symbolic importance to Watson as he eyes a 2017 rebound. A year ago, he won by three strokes over Patrick Reed, largely thanks to a spectacular 63 on moving day. If he can keep it in the fairway and sink a decent number of putts, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again. The only possible cause for concern is his form — Watson tied for 54th at the WGC-HSBC Champions, his lone start in the new season.
Even with the mediocre form, though, Watson seems ready to do some damage this week. He’s appeared rested and refreshed after his brief offseason, and true to form, he’s been contemplating his future during media sessions, expressing his interest in both Ryder Cup captaincy and political office. With a familiar course on the docket and his head in the right place, perhaps we’ll get to see the Bubba of old this week.