NORTON, Mass. -- Since his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2006, Bubba Watson has been a star.
That long, wild swing with the big arc is not like anything you see on a practice range at a pro event. And he can't hit the ball on a straight line to save his life. You see, he learned how to work the ball by hitting a plastic ball around his parents' house in Bagdad, Fla., near Pensacola.
Sure, there's a little bit of Jethro Bodine in Watson -- folksy and earnest with a hint of unworldliness -- but he's no na´ve hick. At 32 years old, he might have finally matured into a big-time player.
"You win three times in less than a year," said Watson, "all the people are writing about you in the paper. You've got more fans. You've got a lot more friends. You've got a lot more family. You've got a lot more everything."
On Saturday morning in his second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Watson demonstrated that he is worth the attention with a 7-under 64 at TPC Boston to get him to 10 under. He shares the 36-hole lead with Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel.
Scott posted the low round of the tournament so far with a 63 on Saturday while Schwartzel birdied six of the first seven holes on the front nine en route to his second straight 66.
Brandt Snedekermatched Watson's 64, and the Vanderbilt product's day included a hole-in-one on the par-3 16th. Also in contention are Rickie Fowler and Ernie Els, both of whom are two shots back. At 99th in the FedEx Cup playoff standings, Els needs to finish at least 17th to move on to the third leg of the playoffs two weeks from now in Chicago.
"It's almost like a life-and-death situation," said the 41-year-old, 18-time PGA Tour winner. "I know it's not, but in golfing terms. So if you don't play really well, you don't advance."
Els had better luck with his belly putter on Saturday than Phil Mickelson, who stands at 1 over for the tournament after a 2-over 73 in his second round. Mickelson's birdie on the par-4 492-yard ninth hole -- his 18th hole of the day -- was the difference in him making the cut on the number.
Showing perhaps that he is finally coming into good form after a long drought, Sergio Garcia was a shot behind Els and Fowler and four back of Watson after shooting a 6-under 65 on Saturday.
Watson eagled the 600-yard, par-5 seventh hole both Friday and Saturday. Overall he had six birdies, the eagle and for the second straight day a bogey at the 495-yard, par-4 14th hole.
"I made a couple of putts here and there, nothing spectacular, I guess. Boring golf," Watson said.
When a 19-year-old Garcia was battling Tiger Woods for the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah (Ill.) C.C., Watson was a 20-year-old sophomore at Faulkner State Community College in Alabama. The heir to the European golfing throne held for decades by fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, Garcia was headed toward superstardom and major championship wins.
Watson, a lanky kid from the Florida panhandle with John Daly-esque power, hadn't yet become an All-American at Georgia. Garcia's future seemed certain.
Back then, no one would have imagined that Garcia would be now trying to keep pace with Watson. Although Watson is two years older than Garcia, he is much younger in golfing years and carries less of the baggage of unmet expectations that have plagued the temperamental Spaniard for years.
After a three-year winless drought, Garcia, who has won 20 times worldwide, is feeling very confident about his game.
"It's still not finished," he said. 'There's no doubt that you could probably say that I deserved to win already by now. But at the same time, it's been a process. It's been building up, and my game has been getting better and my short game has been getting better."
But to win this week, he's going to need to lean on his long game on a TPC Boston layout that has favored big hitters since the Deutsche Bank Championship started in 2003. In the eight previous years of the tournament, all but two winners have been long hitters; the exceptions are Olin Browne in 2005 and Steve Stricker in 2009.
"For the holes that you can score," Watson said, "it helps to be a long hitter."
Yet Snedeker, who shot a 6-under 29 on his first nine holes Saturday, believes that length isn't a huge advantage this week.
"This would be a proper week where the course is firm, ball is running out," said the 31-year-old, two-time PGA Tour winner, who averages just under 300 yards off the tee. "Being super long is not going to give you a huge advantage because the ball is running out so far. I'm hitting them 300, 310, 320 this week."
Still, Watson has to be the favorite at the halfway point of the championship. Perhaps his poor mental game -- by his own admission -- is the only thing that stands in his way.
In the past he has said that he would quit the game before he got a swing coach and sports psychologist. But on Saturday I asked him if he thought his reluctance to seek help for his mental game shortcomings could keep him from reaching his potential.
"I don't think I need help," he said. "I've just got to figure it out on my own. I've figured out my golf swing; I've made it here. I'm playing good this week and my mind is in the right spot."
Presently 16th in the playoff standings, Watson could take the lead in the race if he wins this week. Depending on how Sunday plays out, he could be playing the final round with his good buddy Fowler, who shot a 67 in Round 2 and stands three shots off the lead.
"Obviously [Bubba] played well today," Fowler said. "So hopefully we can keep that going through the weekend and have some fun."
The brash 22-year-old PGA Tour sophomore has yet to win as a professional but has had four top-10s, including a tie for second at the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron last month and a fifth at the British Open.
"I've been playing well the last two-and-a-half, three months or so," said Fowler, who is 31st in the playoff standings. "It's been nice to be back in contention and to feel the nerves, get the juices flowing. I'm looking forward to playing well this weekend and putting myself in position to win."
There is a lot of golf yet to be played, but a Fowler-Watson final pairing would be wonderful for the playoffs and the tournament.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.