Bubba Watson takes center stage
Good luck keeping up with the schedule Bubba Watson has endured since winning the Masters. It is dizzying, inducing the sort of awe that one of his towering tee shots elicits.
Watson has been on a whirlwind media blitz/celebratory run that included, in no particular order, appearances on "Piers Morgan," "Late Night with David Letterman," "Morning Joe," "Charlie Rose" and "Morning Drive." He did radio shows with Scott Van Pelt and Dan Patrick. He played in a Tim Tebow charity golf outing at the TPC Sawgrass. He tweeted President Obama.
Somewhere in there, Watson said he took a call from Justin Bieber; spent time with his newly adopted son, Caleb; organized a charity function that will take place during the Memorial Tournament; and left the golf world wondering just how he hits some of his amazing shots.
Now it is time to get back to work, and it will be amazing to see how Watson proceeds from here.
He will defend his title at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where a year ago he defeated Webb Simpson in a sudden-death playoff. It was Watson's third PGA Tour victory in nine months and clearly stamped him as one of the top American players. During that stretch, he had also lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer at the PGA Championship.
But as hard as it might be to believe, Watson posted just one top-20 finish the rest of the year after the 2011 Zurich Classic: a tie for 16th at The Barclays. That means he was never in contention after his New Orleans win until the calendar turned to 2012. He did have a successful Presidents Cup, where he went 3-2, and then showed some spark earlier this year with a tie for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a second at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
His rather lackluster performance after April of last year pretty much went without scrutiny.
That will change as a major championship winner, and how Watson handles it will be fascinating to watch.
Watson has been terrific in the aftermath of his Masters win, but that has mostly been in celebratory mode. How he reacts after a poor round or a poor tournament remains to be seen.
That's because Watson has had a sometimes awkward relationship with the golf media. He runs hot and cold, some of it due to his admitted aversion to the limelight. Good luck with that now. It was interesting how during the course of his Masters news conference after defeating Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff, he said he would soon be old news.
"Tomorrow, there's going to be a new tournament and y'all are going to write about other people," he said. "Y'all are going to forget about me tomorrow, you know what I'm saying? I'm going to have to keep living my life and do everything then get back to real life."
Perhaps Bubba was caught up in the moment. Surely he knows things are going to be different now.
Nobody is going to forget about Watson, such a unique player with enormous appeal who is now a major champion.
But with that goes more scrutiny, fair or not. His performances will be evaluated and dissected. Watson is the fourth-ranked player in the world, the No. 1 American. Not only will he not be forgotten, he might get tired of all the attention.
And that might prove more problematic than hitting fairways and greens and holing putts.
Safe to say, Lee Westwood's 38th career worldwide victory Sunday at the Indonesian Masters won't go down among his most coveted. In defending his title, Westwood -- who just turned 39 and is ranked third in the world -- beat exactly nobody who was ranked in the top 100. In fact, the highest-ranked player in the field other than Westwood was Siddikur Rahman, ranked 153rd.
And this has been cause for plenty of discussion.
Westwood skipped the PGA Tour's Valero Texas Open and the European Tour's Volvo China Open to play the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters, an Asian Tour event in Jakarta. No offense to anyone on the Asian Tour circuit, but it is likely not on par with the Nationwide Tour. It falls below the Japan Tour in terms of quality of play.
The Englishman earned $118,000 for the victory from a paltry purse by his standards, but obviously traveled that far to play in an obscure event because he was being offered plenty of appearance money to do so.
By winning, he earned 20 world ranking points -- almost exclusively because he was in the field. That is one of the issues with the Official World Golf Ranking. It doesn't so much reward depth of fields as it does having top-ranked players. (It also gives more points to tournaments that are designated as signature events on their respective tours.) Westwood earned more points than the second-place finishers at the Valero Texas Open, who got the same as No. 2 in Indonesia.
But before you go knocking Westwood, it's no easy feat to show up and win against any professional field. No doubt, he was by far the most accomplished player competing. But that doesn't mean he was guaranteed victory. There were plenty of golfers who have won in various places around the world. Rahman has played most of the last two years in Asia, but did qualify for the WGC-HSBC Champions in China last year and has played in other European Tour events.
Or put it another way. Do you think Rory McIlroy would be a lock to win an event on the Nationwide Tour right now? Tiger Woods? Their competitive skill sets and experience suggest they should win -- they would face a similar rankings disparity to the one Westwood faced -- but golf doesn't always work that way. McIlroy played in a Challenge Tour event a few years ago and failed to win. You still have to shoot the scores -- which Westwood did.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Ben Curtis. The former British Open champion was without a place to play, mostly, until his victory Sunday at the Valero Texas Open.
2. Ai Miyazato. She has seemingly been around forever, but the Japanese star has now won eight LPGA titles after her victory Sunday -- to go with another 15 in Japan.
3. John Huh. He was 9 over par after 8 holes and ended up missing a playoff by one shot at the Valero Texas Open. Good stuff from the PGA Tour rookie.
1. Anthony Kim. It's been one issue or another for Kim, who withdrew from the Valero Texas Open with a wrist injury and has had trouble getting his game back on track.
2. Michelle Wie. The onetime phenom is now having difficulty making cuts. She missed her third in a row on the LPGA Tour on her home course in Hawaii.
3. Matt Every. The Valero Texas Open was another good tournament for Every, but he undoubtedly rues several missed opportunities down the stretch that could have made the outcome different.
British Open watch
The site for this year's Open Championship, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, has been lengthened some 200 yards since the last time the tournament was played at the Northwest England venue.
Tournament organizers revealed several of the changes during Monday's media day at the course, where par will be reduced from 71 to 70 (the par-5 sixth will now be a par-4) and yardage increased to just over 7,000 yards.
"So overall, a stiffer test," said Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A. "Lytham has always been a strategic course where you need a lot of course management and strategy to play. There's over 200 bunkers here, so plenty to get in the way of wayward shots. It's a favorite course of many of the past players and past champions, and we're delighted to be back."
The Open was played at Lytham in 2001, when David Duval won his only major championship -- and last PGA Tour event.
It was originally scheduled to go to Lytham last year, with Royal St. George's being the host this year. But given Royal St. George's proximity to London and this summer's Olympic Games, it was decided to move St. George's ahead a year so as not to be in conflict. The Open will be played July 19-22.
The Zurich Classic has put together a nice field, with 19 of the top 50 in the world committed. Among them are No. 2 Luke Donald and No. 4 Bubba Watson, who returns to the PGA Tour for his first event since winning the Masters. Branden Grace won the Volvo China Open, his third victory this year on the European Tour, following January wins in his native South Africa. It's been a tough start this year for Michelle Wie, who has played 13 of her 14 rounds over par. She has not broken 75 in her last 10 rounds. Ben Curtis had played just three tournaments on the PGA Tour this year before winning the Valero Texas Open. Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion, finished 149th on the money list last year and had limited status. Now he has a two-year exemption. Peter Hanson, who tied for third at the Masters, is making the long trip from China to New Orleans to play on a sponsor exemption. Hanson, who was the highest-ranked player in the world in China, can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions as a special temporary member of the PGA Tour. The European Tour heads to South Korea for the Ballantine's Championship. Adam Scott is the highest-ranked player in the field and is joined by Ian Poulter as well as Koreans Y.E. Yang, K.T. Kim and Sang-Moon Bae. Lee Westwood won the title last year but is not defending. He will play next week's Wells Fargo Championship on the PGA Tour, which will have the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in one of the best fields of the spring. The Players Championship follows the week after.
"It's been a tough couple of years just fighting through it." -- Ben Curtis, who lost his exempt status last year and had not won since 2006, following his victory at the Valero Texas Open.