Awaiting Bubba Watson's return

And has Tiger really lost his 'nerve' putting?

Updated: April 24, 2012, 7:39 AM ET
ESPN.com

Sunday saw Ben Curtis get his first PGA Tour victory since 2006, and this week we'll see Bubba Watson -- on a golf course -- for the first time since he slipped that green jacket after winning the Masters.

And what about Butch Harmon's comments about the state of Tiger's game? Our experts analyze all that and more in our latest edition of Monday Four-Ball.


1. Masters winner Bubba Watson returns this week at the Zurich Classic. What can we expect from the defending champion in New Orleans?


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: I expect Bubba to finish inside the top 20 this week. He did the craziness of every guest appearance possible the week after the Masters, then did the family thing last week. He'll come into this week relaxed and knowing that he's taking off again next week instead of playing the Wells Fargo Championship. That being said, it's Bubba, so if he misses the cut or wins, I won't be surprised.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Bubba is having the most consistent year of his career. He can get a top-10 in New Orleans without trying real hard, but I doubt he's got his head back in the game yet to play four rounds to win a tournament.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: It is difficult to know what to expect. Will he play as if he has nothing to lose and ride the high of his Masters victory? Or is there a letdown, a struggle to regain that form, difficulty dealing with the bad shots, the bad days? It will be fascinating to watch Watson navigate his way through the next several months, not just the New Orleans tournament.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: I wouldn't expect all that much from Bubba Watson on the course this week. He fully admits having a hard time concentrating -- although he did quite well with it in the final round and playoff at Augusta -- but getting back to the grind is never easy when coming off such a high as a first major victory.

A top-20 in New Orleans would be a positive, but I wouldn't rule out something lower down the leaderboard.


2. Ben Curtis came from 396th in the world to win the British Open in 2003. Be honest: Did anyone think he'd get to four career PGA Tour wins?


Michael Collins: After winning the British Open in '03 everyone figured he was a one-hit wonder, and it looked that way until '06 when he won twice. Needless to say, having Mr. Curtis as your champion might not be a good omen … 84 Lumber and Booz Allen both did not return as sponsors in '07. Is the ink dry on the tour's contract with Valero thru 2018 yet?! Ben is proof positive that the line between PGA Tour/major champion is thinner than a razor-blade edge, and for some players can come and go like the weather.

Farrell Evans: Ben wasn't ready for all the expectations that came with winning a major. But he won twice in 2006 and made the Ryder Cup at Valhalla after a tie for second in the 2008 PGA. It's darn hard to win on the PGA Tour. We just expect more of him because he's a major champion.

Bob Harig: Not a chance. He missed the cut in eight of his next 10 major championships after winning at Royal St. George's and posted just five top-10s over the next two years, with his best finish a third. It was easy to think he was a fluke. But Curtis has added three victories since, and played for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2008.

Kevin Maguire: No way. Curtis had the good fortune to not fold when Thomas Bjorn coughed up the Claret Jug at Royal St. George's. Instead, I would have said it's more likely that Curtis posted zero wins after his major triumph. But who's to say he doesn't use this Valero Texas Open victory as a sort of career resurgence at age 34?


3. Butch Harmon told The Wall Street Journal that Tiger Woods "lost his nerve" putting. Agree or disagree?


Michael Collins: Disagree. I think now Tiger is hitting more greens than in years past but his proximity to the hole is making those numbers look a bit worse than they are. The average for the PGA Tour player to make a putt 50 percent of the time is 7 feet, 10 inches. Surprising for us to hear and believe, but it's true. We get spoiled watching so many putts go in on TV, and in years past those were Tiger putts. But many of those putts were 4-footers to save par after a miraculous chip or flop shot. Now that he is hitting greens but has a 21-foot putt for birdie, we act surprised when he misses.

Farrell Evans: Butch is calling it as he sees it. Who knows Tiger's game better than Butch?

Bob Harig: Disagree. Harmon went on to say Woods' nerves are bad, and I'm not convinced that is the case. Confidence? Harmon alluded to that, too, and when you miss putts you are used to making, that has got to play a factor. There are myriad reasons Woods' putting has not been the same.

Kevin Maguire: Disagree. Tiger's lost quite a few things since he hit that fire hydrant, but I'm not sure his putting "nerve" was one of them. Could he use a little more confidence? Sure, what golfer couldn't? But to say he lost his nerve -- no matter how qualified Butch is as Woods' former coach -- might be a bit of hyperbole.


4. The LPGA Tour played this week's event on a Wednesday-Saturday schedule instead of the traditional Sunday finish. Thumbs up or thumbs down on the move?


Michael Collins: Thumbs down. I love the effort of trying to change things up, but if you're gonna make a change … Don't say I'm not wearing blue jeans anymore then show up wearing "light blue" jeans. I like the fact that the LPGA doesn't want to finish on Sunday same as the PGA and Champions tours but here's an idea … For three-day events, finish on Wednesday. Put the coverage on in prime time and you'll have the golf fan exclusively. And that's what you're going for, right?

Farrell Evans: I don't understand it. But I don't know that it matters. The LPGA is a great golf product that is finding it hard to find an audience no matter what days it plays.

Bob Harig: Huge thumbs up. They ought to think of doing this whenever possible, especially when out west and tournament finishes can be broadcast in primetime. Another thought is to end some tournaments on Mondays. Anything to give yourself some separation from the glut of PGA Tour/European Tour golf from Thursday through Sunday.

Kevin Maguire: Thumbs up for the LPGA. They've got to change things around to get people to sit up and take notice. A few Saturday final rounds will certainly do that. Great golf with impressive winners (like Ai Miyazato this week in Hawaii) helps, too, as would the continuation of the Yani Tseng dynasty.

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