<
>

Bubba Watson wins Hero World Challenge by 3 shots

NASSAU, Bahamas -- A few years after Bubba Watson made it onto the PGA Tour, he started waking up early to play practice rounds with Tiger Woods. He didn't ask a lot of questions of the world's No. 1 player, who had 14 majors when he was 32.

"I learn by watching and listening," Watson said. "So I just watched. How would you not want to learn from the best player of our generation?"

Woods, the tournament host, was watching Sunday as Watson delivered a performance that looked familiar in its efficiency. Staked to a two-shot lead going into the final round, Watson made four birdies in seven holes and was never seriously challenged. He sailed to a 6-under 66 and a 3-shot victory over Patrick Reed at Albany Golf Club in the Hero World Challenge.

Watson wasn't planning to play this week. He turned down his invitation a few months ago because he didn't have a passport for his newly adopted daughter, Dakota, and asked the tournament to let him know if anyone withdrew. When PGA champion Jason Day backed out to stay home with his newborn daughter, Watson's wife was able to expedite all the right documents for the family to come to the Bahamas.

Watson left with a $1 million payoff and a firm grasp on No. 4 in the world for the rest of the year.

"I guess I've got to thank Jason Day for backing out. I have to thank the U.S. government and passport office for getting Dakota a passport so we could be here," Watson said. "For us, it's a good ride, a fun ride."

Even if it didn't feel easy to him, it sure looked that way. Watson didn't make a bogey until the final hole, when he jokingly asked NBC field reporter Notah Begay how many shots he needed to win. He played it safe and made bogey, and all that cost him was the tournament record. Watson finished at 25-under 263, one shot off Jordan Spieth's record last year at Isleworth.

Reed also had a 66 to finish alone in second, which moves him to No. 10 in the world for the first time. Rickie Fowler had a 64 to finish third.

Spieth tried to stay in range and was 3 shots behind until he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole. He didn't convert many chances after that. He ended his year with a 67, and walking up the 18th, he and caddie Michael Greller allowed for quick reflection.

"Michael said, 'Hey, man, it's been an honor to be in the passenger seat, sitting shotgun for this ride. Thanks for everything,'" Spieth said. "I obviously thanked him. It's been a team effort this year, just as we always stress. But yeah, there was certainly a sigh of relief."

The Masters and U.S. Open champion strengthened his grip on No. 1 in the world and headed off for a three-week vacation before going to Maui for the first tournament of what figures to be a tough encore season. First up: A trip to Augusta National this weekend to play with his father.

Watson's year is not finished. He headed to New York on Sunday to catch a flight to Asia for the Thailand Open.

Watson seized control with seven birdies and an eagle in ideal weather Saturday for a 2-shot lead over Paul Casey, and he started fast with birdies on the second and third holes to keep his distance. No one got closer than 2 shots all day, and as Fowler made a move with a 30 on the front nine, Watson answered with two straight birdies to start the back nine. Then it was a matter of finishing.

Justin Rose, who lives at Albany and lingered at the bottom of the leaderboard all week, set the course record with a 62.

For Watson, the next step is to be a more consistent winner. This was the ninth victory worldwide in his career, and it is the second straight year he has won multiple times.

"I want my name to be close to that leaderboard every tournament, every year, so people are always talking about Bubba Watson, about how consistent he is and good he is," Watson said. "That's my whole focus right now: every year getting better and better."