Bubba Watson captured his first World Golf Championship with a stunning turnaround on Sunday when he holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 18th hole to get into a play-off, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt to beat Tim Clark and win the HSBC Champions.
The 10th edition of the HSBC Champions was the wildest one of them all.
Watson had a two-shot lead with three holes to play until he appeared to throw it all away. He missed the 16th green with a lob wedge and made bogey, and then took two shots to get out of a bunker on the par-3 17th and made double bogey to fall one shot behind a five-way tie for the lead.
The Masters champion was fidgety and irritated at any movement around him, even stopping at the top of his swing from the bunker left of the green on the par-5 18th hole because of a camera click from the hospitality suite. But angst turned to joy when he blasted onto the green and watched the ball roll some 25 feet into the cup for eagle.
Watson admitted he was ‘just trying to get down in two’ after his winning 30-foot putt © Getty Images
He closed with a two-under 70.
Clark was the only player from the five-way tie to join Watson at 11-under-par. He laid up on the 18th and hit wedge to five feet for birdie and a 69. Rickie Fowler tried to reach the green with a 5-wood from 228 yards, but it rolled back into the water. He scrambled for par and a 70.
All three players in the final group failed to make birdie.
Graeme McDowell, trying to complete a wire-to-wire win, missed a 12-foot birdie attempt and shot 73. Hiroshi Iwata missed an eight-foot birdie putt and settled for a 72. Martin Kaymer’s wedge for his third shot bounded off the green to the right and went into the water, leading to double bogey. He had a 73.
Watson became the 14th player to win a major and a World Golf Championship, and it capped off his best calendar year – the LA Open in February, a second green jacket at Augusta in April, and a WGC title in China that he nearly let slip through his fingers.
“For me this is the big one,” Watson said. “It’s very big because I always wanted to win outside the US. It’s my seventh win, gets me closer to 10 wins which has always been my goal. It’s a World Golf Championship, so when you add it all up it means a lot.”
Speaking about the final hole, the he added: “It was such a tough bunker shot you are not really thinking about making it, but I told my caddie it’s been a wild day, a wild couple of holes, but if we can make this it changes everything and it went in like a putt. Clark was like ‘Why would you do that?!’
“In the play-off, it was funny because the bunker shot I holed was on the same line so we knew the line and we knew it was fast. I was trying to two-putt and it just fell in.”
Both big moments – the bunker shot and the winning putt – produced more high-charged emotion than either of his two Masters victories. With a world-class field, this tournament came down to six players over the final 30 minutes.
The final group – McDowell, Iwata and Kaymer – were so shocked to see the leaderboard when they reached the 16th green that they asked if it was correct. They had been chasing. Suddenly, they were tied at 10-under, and Watson was trailing.
“That’s why I went for the green on 16,” Kaymer said. “I thought if I can make three there, I can square with Bubba. And I saw that he made double bogey on 17, so all of a sudden, there were five guys in the lead.”
Watson at that moment appeared to be the least likely of the bunch to hold the trophy.
Kaymer took two chips to get on the 16th green and had to scramble for par. Iwata was just over the back of the green with his tee shot on the par-4 16th, but he stubbed his chip and two-putted for par. McDowell narrowly missed an 18-foot birdie. All had their chances on the 18th to catch Watson and Clark.
Watson moves up to No.3 in the world, making him the highest-ranked American.
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