PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Bubba Watson has one thing going for him: So far, nobody else has a better chance at winning a second major this year.
“I’ve already got one,” he quipped Tuesday.
The two-time Masters champion came to Pinehurst this week for the U.S. Open hoping to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win the year’s first two majors.
“Any time you have that chance, it’s been a good year, because that means you’ve done well early,” Watson said.
The world’s third-ranked player is trying to join that short list of players to win both the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. It’s only happened six times and before Woods, nobody had done it since Jack Nicklaus in 1972.
Watson is certainly hoping this attempt goes better than the last one. Two years ago at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, he missed the cut after shooting an 8-over-par 78 in his opening round.
Through the years, the U.S. Open has provided a particularly vexing test for Watson, who has missed the cut in three of his seven Opens.
His only top-10 finish came in 2007 when he tied for fifth at Oakmont — perhaps the toughest of the courses that have staged golf’s national championship.
“A U.S. Open brings out challenges that we’re not used to, challenges that we can only take once a year or we would all find new jobs if we had to do it every week,” Watson said.
And a different set of them awaits this week at the revamped Pinehurst No. 2 course that looks nothing like it did when Payne Stewart (1999) and Michael Campbell (2005) won Opens here.
Watson it called “a second-shot golf course” and said it bears no resemblance to the Augusta National course he’s twice conquered “except it’s 18 holes, that’s about it.”
The multi-million-dollar restoration to Donald Ross’ original design, removed the rough and left only two cuts of grass — fairway and green.
Birdies figure to once again be rare at the U.S. Open, where bogeys aren’t necessarily bad and the winner is often the one who takes the smartest shots and makes the fewest mistakes.
He’ll find out over the next few days if his daring “Bubba golf” style will work on a course that has only two par-5s.
Watson leads all PGA Tour players with an average driving distance of 314 yards — a distinct advantage at the various courses on the tour. But maybe not at Pinehurst No. 2, where sandy hardpan, wiregrass and weeds make up what used to be the rough.
“It’s all about the tee shots. I’m going to try to lay farther back than normal, because it’s still iffy hitting in that — I don’t know what they call it, rough, dirt, sand. … But it’s going to be iffy. You don’t know what kind of lies you’re going to get.”
Get through that and out of the fairways, and those notoriously tricky turtleback greens — which a smiling Watson repeatedly called “unfriendly” — await.
The “U.S. Open is challenging you at all levels. If you want to be a man and hit driver off that tee, you can,” he said. “If you want to lay back and try to play smarter, you can. … You have the ability to do it, now can you do it at that moment, is what the key is.
“So I think the U.S. Open is doing that, it’s just that’s what they’re trying to create,” he added. “They’re trying to create a challenge for everybody, and you can play it aggressively or you can play it smartly.”
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