Bubba Watson returns to action

Updated: May 6, 2014, 3:56 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Vowing to handle his Masters victory better this time, Bubba Watson acknowledged Tuesday that the crush of attention and expectations that came after his 2012 win at Augusta National made it difficult for him to perform.

Watson is back to competitive golf at this week's Players Championship for the first time since his Masters win on April 9.

"The last time I thought I was the coolest guy in the world; I have a green jacket," Watson said after a practice round at TPC Sawgrass, where the $10 million event begins Thursday. "You can't beat things like that.

"This one is a lot different. It's more for myself and, after that, just go back and play golf. I haven't played since the Masters, so there's other people that are (written) about, there's other great golfers that are winning. So I've got to go out and win again. So I'm looking at it a lot different."

Watson said NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant reached out to him via Twitter to offer their congratulations -- and that he in turn coaxed phone numbers out of them so he could text instead. "That was pretty cool to be able to talk to them,'' Watson said.

In addition to a late-night Tweet from a Waffle House, Watson said his group, including wife Angie, also went to a Steak 'N Shake later that night after his Masters victory.

Watson mostly avoided all the media requests that he took part in two years ago.

He went to his hometown of Bagdad, Fla. to visit students at his grade school and high school and didn't get back to practicing golf until last week.

After his first Masters victory, Watson didn't win again until the Northern Trust Open in February. He also has two runner-up finishes this season.

To that end, Watson, who is ranked No. 4 in the world, could go to No. 1 with a solo second finish this week at the Players Championship -- as long as Adam Scott does not win.

But Watson wasn't counting on that.

"I haven't played very well around here,'' Watson said.

His best finish is a tie for 37th -- twice, including last year. He's also missed three cuts.

[+] EnlargeWatson
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty ImagesBubba Watson returns to action this week for the first time since winning his second green jacket at the Masters. "This one is a lot different," Watson said. "It's more for myself and, after that, just go back and play golf."

"It's very challenging for me,'' Watson said. "When I look down No. 1 and No. 10, just to give you an example, it's hard to tell the fairway and the rough. It all kind of blends together. I don't like to look at a tree and aim at a tree. I like to see the lay of the land and that's how I hit my shots. So it makes it difficult for me.''

As for the idea of becoming No. 1, Watson said: "We've seen guys be No. 1 for one week, we've seen Phil Mickelson -- who is arguable the top-5 best of all time -- and he's never been No. 1.

"That would just show me that the rankings are kind of messed up if Bubba Watson has been No. 1 and Phil Mickelson has never been No. 1. It would be the same thing as winning the green jacket. ... But it's not going to ruin my life or my career if I never get there.''

Watson will play the first two rounds at TPC Sawgrass with Matt Kuchar, who won here in 2012, and Jimmy Walker, who has won three times during the 2013-14 season. They begin play at 1:49 p.m. ET on Thursday and go off at 8:39 a.m. on Friday.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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