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Saturday, March 2, 2013
Updated: March 5, 10:07 AM ET
Bubba Watson's dream world

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

After Bubba Watson won the Masters last April, he said that he "had never had a dream go this far."

So he couldn't say that it was a dream come true. He hadn't stayed awake all night as a child in tiny Bagdad, Fla., thinking about hitting the craziest hook shot in golf history en route to winning the green jacket.

No, his dreams were more realistic. First, it was to simply get on tour. Then he had to make enough checks to keep his playing privileges year after year. And if he could achieve those two goals, he could probably make a steady living as a pro.

Not many folks back home in the Florida Panhandle or at the University of Georgia, where he played his college golf, had much faith in him to make it on tour.

But here was goofy Bubba -- hitting bombs off the tee from the wrong side with a homemade swing, stubborn as hell, God-fearing, sentimental and tearful -- the Masters champion.

Yet he had been living his dream. Not Tiger Woods' or Rory McIlroy's or the dream passed down to them through Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus.

Coming into that Masters, Bubba was proud of himself for finishing in the top 20 in his previous seven starts on tour. More than anything, he wanted to be consistent.

The more consistent he was, the less he had to look at the clock: the length of his exemption on the PGA Tour. Leading into the Masters, he had a second-place finish at Doral and a tie for fourth at Bay Hill.

Three wins, two in 2011, had eased some of that concern about keeping his job, but the Augusta victory gave him a five-year PGA Tour exemption.

Free to follow his dream without the cumbersome business of exemptions, reshuffles and world rankings to get into the majors and World Golf Championship events, the 34-year-old former NGA/Hooters Tour winner has become a full-fledged star in the game.

Watson doesn't have the résumé of a Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Steve Stricker or Dustin Johnson, but he has the one thing none of them have -- a major championship.

It's been almost a year since Bubba's hook shot off the pine straw at Augusta National's 10th hole stunned Louis Oosthuizen and the golf world. He has settled down into life as a new father to a boy, Caleb, who he and his wife, Angie, were in the process of adopting during the Masters.

The events of that Easter Sunday are still fresh in his mind, but he hasn't locked himself into that moment or lost focus on his game. Starting a family helped him put golf in the proper perspective, but his best professional advice came from his agent, Jens Beck.

"Jens' advice was golf first," Watson said last week. "So we've canceled a lot of media requests, we've canceled a lot of things to make golf first. I was Bubba Watson the golfer first before I won, so we have to keep it simple and remember that golf is first.

"So we told our sponsors, look, I know you want to do things and do this, but you don't like Bubba if Bubba isn't playing good, so golf is first, and that's the one thing we always told ourselves."

Bubba has stayed true to that golf-first mentality when ego could have won out over common sense. He hasn't changed his equipment or added a swing coach or a sports psychologist. Last week, he said he couldn't imagine leaving Ping, the brand he has used since he was 8 years old, unless it was for what he called a "stupid number."

Since showing off the green jacket on a media tour in New York in the days following his win at Augusta, he has kept the iconic jacket tucked in a closet at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

After missing two consecutive cuts, including the U.S. Open, following his Masters triumph, Bubba had a tie for second at the Travelers Championship, where he won his first tour event in 2010. He had also had a tie for 23rd at the Open Championship and a tie for 11th at the PGA Championship. He added two top-10s in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"You don't want to be known for the one tournament," Watson said. "You want to go out there and compete. I want to play for many more years."

This year, he's had one top-10 finish in three events, a tie for fourth at the weather-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a third-round exit at the WGC-Match Play Championship.

He's in the field this week at Doral for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he held a three-shot lead last year going into the final round before stumbling to a final-round 74 to finish one shot behind winner Justin Rose.

That bitter disappointment could have derailed Bubba's confidence for the buildup to the Masters, where in three previous appearances his best finish was a tie for 20th in 2008. But he continued to play well, and, after his tie for fourth at Bay Hill, it was easy to consider him a favorite at Augusta.

All the right-to-left tee shots at Augusta National are perfect for Bubba's lefty slice.

"There's only three tee shots that really scare me or can get to me on the whole golf course, so when you look at it that way, it sets up really well for my tee shots, and that golf course is all about your tee shots and then your iron play, and my iron play is normally pretty decent the last few years," Watson said last week.

But he has no plans to relive the shot that's landed him in the history books.

"That might be my only legacy of winning the Masters, so I want that shot to live, and I want it to grow, and hopefully 20 years from now it's even tougher and there was bigger trees and was a tougher situation," he said.

"So I don't have any reason to go over there. Hopefully I hit the fairway from now on so I don't need to practice that shot anymore."

Bubba can now dream new dreams and imagine more daring shots that defy explanation or logic. What he couldn't envision just one year ago is now a reality.

But the first dream he sought -- the simple one to get out on tour and play well, on his terms -- is the one that could push him to his second green jacket.

With a little more than a month left until he begins his defense of his Masters title, Bubba has plenty of time to sharpen his vision for the unimaginable.