AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Bubba Watson won one Masters with a shot out of the trees that will live in tournament lore. He’d like to take an easier path to a second green jacket.
Watson got a good start on doing just that Thursday with the only bogey-free round of the first day. On a course that sets up perfectly for his game, he shot a 3-under 69 that was about as stress free as it gets at Augusta National.
“I don’t want to give my secret, but I’m trying to just hit greens,” Watson said. “Today I missed two greens. I missed one by six inches, missed one by three feet. I putted both of those, made pars.”
Two years removed from winning the Masters with an improbable gap wedge hooked around the trees on the second hole of a playoff with Louis Oosthuizen, Watson appeared ready to challenge on the weekend once again with a round that left him tied with defending champion Adam Scott and one shot off the lead held by Bill Haas.
It was in marked contrast to last year, when he said he was weighed down by the responsibilities of being the defending champion and couldn’t keep his mind on his game.
“The emotions are different because I’m trying to get the green jacket again,” Watson said. “There’s so much you’re doing when you’re defending champ, and my mind can’t handle it. For me it was just overwhelming, the Champions Dinner, everybody still congratulating you, so I just never got the focus. I played really bad on Sunday last year.”
Watson was never in contention last year, finishing with a 77 to tie for 50th. It was his worst finish in five Masters, and it got him thinking about what he had to do to win again.
Hitting fairways and greens never hurts, and Watson did it all afternoon long on a course where he can take out the driver and let it fly. About the only time he even sniffed trouble was on No. 18, when he hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker and had to two-putt from 50 feet for par.
“If I can hit greens, that means I’ve hit good tee shots and I hit good iron shots, and just trying to make par from there and throw in a birdie here and there,” he said. “And that’s what I did today.”
After winning his first major championship here, Watson struggled last year to contend anywhere. But he came back strongly with a string of good finishes this year before shooting 64-64 on the weekend to win the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
Watson followed that with a second place finish at the Cadillac Championship, where he played the last 27 holes without a bogey.
Watson said he’s ready to use the lessons he learned in the wake of his Masters breakthrough to win here a second time.
“I’m coming back with the take that I want the jacket again,” he said. “I’m coming back with a different mindset, full of energy. I haven’t had any media this week, because nobody cares about the guy (from) a couple of years ago.”
A few more rounds like Watson shot Thursday and that could change in a hurry.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.