NASSAU, Bahamas – Bubba Watson wasn’t even planning to play in the Hero Challenge. He left no doubt Sunday who was going to win.
Watson quickly stretched his two-shot lead by making four birdies in seven holes. He was never seriously challenged, sailing home to a 6-under 66 for a three-shot victory over Patrick Reed at Albany Golf Club and a trophy from tournament host Tiger Woods.
Watson turned down his invitation a few months ago because he didn’t have a passport for his newly adopted daughter, Dakota. But when PGA champion Jason Day backed out to stay home with his newborn daughter, Watson’s wife was able to expedite all the right documents for the family to come over to the Bahamas.
He left with a $1 million payoff and a firm grasp on No. 4 in the world the rest of the year.
“I guess I’ve got to thank Jason Day for backing out. I have to thank the U.S. government and passport office for getting Dakota a passport so we could be here,” Watson said. “For us, it’s a good ride, a fun ride.”
Even if it didn’t feel easy to him, it sure looked that way.
Watson didn’t make a bogey all weekend until the final hole, when he jokingly asked NBC field reporter Notah Begay how many shots he needed to win. He played it safe and made bogey, and all that cost him was the tournament record. Watson finished at 25-under 263, one shot from Jordan Spieth’s record last year at Isleworth.
Reed also had a 66 to finish alone in second, moving him to No. 10 in the world for the first time. Rickie Fowler had a 64 to finish third.
Spieth tried to stay in range and was three shots behind until he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole and never converted many chances after that. He ended his year with a 67, and walking up the 18th, he and caddie Michael Greller allowed for a quick reflection.
“Michael said, ‘Hey, man, it’s been an honor to be in the passenger seat, sitting shotgun for this ride. Thanks for everything,’” Spieth said. “I obviously thanked him. It’s been a team effort this year, just as we always stress. But yeah, there was certainly a sigh of relief.”
The Masters and U.S. Open champion strengthened his grip on No. 1 in the world, and headed off to a three-week vacation before going out to Maui for the first tournament of what figures to be a tough encore. First up: A trip to Augusta National this weekend to play with his father.
Watson’s year is not finished. He was headed to New York on Sunday night to catch a flight to Asia for the Thailand Open.
The two-time Masters champion already had a two-week trip away from his family, and he didn’t want to do that again. So when there was uncertainty about getting his daughter a passport for the Bahamas, he decided he would stay home this week and asked the tournament to let him know if anyone pulled out.
Day withdrew, Watson’s wife spent eight hours in an Arizona office trying to get all the paperwork and they were on their way.
Watson seized control with seven birdies and an eagle on Saturday in ideal weather for a two-shot lead over Paul Casey, and he started fast with birdies on the second and third holes to keep his distance. No one got closer than two shots all day, and as Fowler made a move with a 30 on the front nine, Watson answered with two straight birdies to start the back nine, and then it was a matter of finishing.
Justin Rose, who lives at Albany and has lingered at the bottom of the leaderboard all week, set the course record with a 62.
For Watson, the next step is to be a more consistent winner. This was the ninth victory worldwide in his career, and the second straight year he has won multiple times.
“I want my name to be close to that leaderboard every tournament, every year, so people are always talking about Bubba Watson, about how consistent he is and good he is,” Watson said. “That’s my whole focus right now, every year getting better and better.”