Last time I made a headline like that, I tipped Bill Haas to win the 2013 PGA Championship. Whilst he did finish inside the top-25, he didn’t win, so I feel I have some making up to do to those who followed my logic.
Introducing Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. aka Bubba.
Before you put all your eggs in Adam Scott or Rory McIlroy’s basket, hear me out on why this could well be Bubba’s year (again).
If you are reading this and unaware that Bubba already has a Green Jacket in his wardrobe, I suggest my blog possibly isn’t for you. Whilst many considered it a shock that Bubba broke through in such dramatic fashion, I was one of “those guys” that had bet on Bubba that week. In fact, I picked Donald, Oosthuizen and Bubba. Whilst Donald finished a lowly T32, it was a delight to sit on my sofa and watch Bubba and Louis battle it out in a win-win scenario for me.
For the record, I’m roughly 0-for-11 in major championship betting since that day.
Anyway, back to Bubba. He has proved he can win at Augusta. His length, shot-shaping and touch around the greens should serve him well.
Consider this, the average Masters appearances before a first win is 6. Whilst Bubba was ahead of schedule, winning in his 4th appearance, he tees it up this week at Augusta for the 6th time, primed for another green jacket.
Chicks dig the long ball, and so does Augusta National. 10 of the last 14 Masters champions have ranked inside the top-30 on the PGA Tour in driving distance in the year they won.
You don’t get adverts using the term “Bubba Long” if you’re not a long hitter. This season Bubba is averaging over 317 yards per drive on the PGA Tour. That’s seven yards further than anyone else.
Unsurprisingly he also ranks #1 in this year’s field in driving distance and will look to use that length on Augusta’s key holes, specifically 2, 5, 8, 11, 13, 15 and 17.
Watch Bubba’s putting stroke, or his body language on the greens, and you may come the conclusion that he is a weak, less-than-confident putter. However, look at the numbers and you’re impression may change.
Bubba is having a career best year in terms of Strokes Gained Putting, ranking 50th on Tour, saving just over a shot on the field over the course of four days.
However, Augusta’s greens are a different story. It is not always about making putts, but getting them close enough to make the next one. Avoiding 3-putts can be even more crucial than holing certain putts. And when it comes to 3-putt avoidance Bubba is in a rare-run of form. He ranks 5th on the PGA Tour, 3-putting just 1.56% of the time. None of the four men above him in that ranking are in the field this week.
At the risk of cursing Bubba, he also holds the longest streak on the PGA Tour of avoiding a 3-putt. He has gone 255 holes without three-jacking, 107 holes more than the next best streak.
In the same way that avoiding 3-putts at Augusta is crucial, making those 3 and 4 foot comebackers can be a major advantage. Having the confidence to hole a 5ft, downhill, left-to-right putt on the back-nine on Sunday can make or break a green jacket charge.
Bubba ranks 7th on the PGA Tour on putts inside 5 feet, making 214 of 218 attempts, tied with fellow Masters-hopeful Sergio Garcia. Only Hunter Mahan and Gary Woodland, in the field this week, rank above Bubba in this category.
Quietly, this season, Bubba Watson has climbed his way up the world rankings. He started the year ranked 30th, yet drove down Magnolia Lane on Monday morning ranked as the 12th best player on the planet.
19 of the last 26 Masters winners have been ranked inside the top-15 in the world when they won, so perhaps Bubba is peaking at the right time.
In the five events he has completed in 2014, he has a win and two runner-up finishes. Since October 2013, Bubba has played eight events and hasn’t finished worse than 30th.
You might have picked up on the fact I said “events he has completed” in that last section. The reason for the wording is that Bubba withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational 3 weeks ago after opening with a 83.
Whilst I wouldn’t normally tip a player who arrives at The Masters on the back of an 83, Bubba said that “bad allergies” led to him making an 11 as well as 7 in his opening round at Bay Hill: “It’s hard to focus when you’re heads all discombobulated from medicine and pollen”
Whilst I hope that his allergies remain under control this week (at a course where each hole is famously named after a flower), I do think he has flown under-the-radar following his Bay Hill WD.
Bubba is one of the best, most in-form players in the world, entering an event he won two years ago, yet he has evaded most of the attention, despite the Tiger-less field. And that is why I honestly believe he will win this year’s Masters.
Before you ask, he is 28/1.