- Farrell Evans, Golf
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DORAL, Fla. -- At the tee on the 441-yard, par-4 third hole on Friday, Bubba Watson tried to hit a high slice against the wind but he pulled it a touch out over the lake to the right, easily reaching the fairway. In the air, the ball seemed certain to find the water.
The 33-year-old former Georgia star felt both a sense of relief and wonder that it found the fairway 321 yards off the tee, 38 yards longer than the drive of one of his playing partners, Justin Rose.
"It's no RocketBallz," Watson, a Ping staffer, playfully told Rose, who uses TaylorMade's RocketBallz 3-wood. "It's just a little girlie driver. It's pretty in pink."
In his second round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Watson had nine birdies, an eagle and a bogey for a 10-under par 62 and a 12-under par two-day total, giving him a 1-shot lead over Rose heading into the weekend. Watson's 62, which tied his career low, was one shot off the course record set by Stephen Ames in 2000. Adam Scott, who held the first-round lead, is 2 shots back after a second-round 68.
Watson, who is the 23rd-ranked player in the world, appeared at times on Friday to be playing a game of HORSE with Rose, who had eight birdies of his own for a 64. For example, at the short second hole, Watson's approach shot hit Rose's ball, resting 6 feet from the hole. They had birdies on six of the same holes. The odd man out in the group, Mark Wilson, shot a 2-under par 70, a good score around the Blue Monster, but he was overshadowed by Watson and Rose.
"This course really doesn't suit me," Watson said. "We were all just feeding off each other, having fun, joking around, picking on each other and somehow we made putts, and at the end of the day we all shot a pretty good number."
After the Blue Monster played almost a shot over par on Thursday, Watson was thinking that anything in the 60s would be a good score. But on Friday the course played nearly 3 shots easier than in the first round.
"The wind was a little easier to handle today," Watson said. "But when I got to 10-under par for the day with the eagle at the 8th hole, it surprised me."
After seven years on tour, Watson might have finally confronted his shortcomings on the mental side of the game. Unlike most contemporary tour players, Watson doesn't have a swing coach or a sports psychologist. Since he was a kid growing up in Bagdad, Fla., learning how to work the ball by hitting plastic balls around his house, Watson has been persistent about keeping the game fun. In the past, he has said he would quit if the game ever got that serious.
"Nobody will take the time to help me," Watson said playfully on Friday when he was asked if he were seeing a mental coach. "It's just me, just stuff that I'm doing, consciously doing, thinking about, trying to slow down, trying to focus more mentally and trying to slow down on the golf course a little bit."
Over the past couple of years, Watson has solidified his place as a top-30 player in the world. He followed up his maiden win in 2010 at the Travelers Championship with two victories last year. His runner-up finish at the 2010 PGA Championship was a signal he could make his homemade game work at the majors.
Still, Watson yearns to become a more consistent player who is a contender on a weekly basis. He's made strides in that direction.
In his past eight events, he hasn't finished outside the top 20.
"Starting last winter, after the Tour Championship, I took a different path, and I've been playing a lot better," he said. "I'm approaching the game differently and working hard at it, and so far it's paying off."
As hard as Watson might be working on his game, his affinity for shot-making and for special situations on the golf course give him an edge on most players. The jagged edges that he draws with his slices and hooks might have a lot to do with his left-handed view of the game, but he's an artist like the game hasn't seen, perhaps, since Chi Chi Rodriguez.
"When you play with Bubba, he does it a little bit differently to the way I do," Rose said. "He takes some lines that I don't have in the locker."
With two rounds left in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, Watson will have to confront both his strengths and weakness if he wants to leave Doral with the $1.4 million first prize. He isn't a big fan of the golf course and particularly the 18th hole, one of the most famous in championship golf, due primarily to the water that runs down the left side. "It's really a bad hole," he told me. But the tournament will most likely come down to that water-packed par-4, where a left-handed Watson will probably have to navigate one of his patented slices into a stiff breeze over the water to have any chance of winning Sunday.
On Friday, Watson said he "chickened out and hooked it into the crowd" right on the 18th. He still made par and had a birdie there on Thursday, but he knows that anything could happen over the weekend.
"It's always a fight in my head, I have to trust it. I'm not worrying about these other guys," he said. "I'm worrying about myself. I'm fighting myself more than anybody else."
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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