Watson feels like a winner in second
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- In a sport starved for young superstars, golf received a three-for-one deal Sunday at the 92nd PGA Championship.
There was Martin Kaymer. The eventual champion played near-flawless golf throughout the final round, and at age 25 looks like he could be an elite player for the next two decades.
There was Dustin Johnson. The sacrificial lamb of this course's ambiguous bunkering will forever receive the empathy of fans and praise for the way he handled an unfortunate situation.
And then there was Bubba Watson.
Neither the champion nor the chump, Watson instead turned out to be the charmer of these festivities. This fact was evident even if you didn't tune into the tournament until after his wayward second shot on the final playoff hole found a water hazard, ultimately eliminating him from title contention.
Whereas most players would be heartbroken after such a loss, Watson was hopeful. Flanked by a radio announcer and bouncing with anxiety, the first words he said upon losing the playoff were, "Do we know anything about Ryder Cup? That's all I care about."
Believe it, too. Bubba is a guy who speaks his mind and wears his emotions like a badge of courage. So when he was told that yes, he did qualify for the United States team -- well, his smile turned so unending you could have mistaken him for the guy who won.
In fact, later in the interview room, one reporter began a question with "I'm sure you're feeling a mix of emotions, but " only to have Watson cut him off. "No," the player maintained. "I'm happy as can be."
Armed with a contagious smile and more facial expressions than there are bunkers at Whistling Straits, he was an impossible figure to root against while chasing his first career major championship title. Though he garners worldwide support in large part because of the playful first name, Bubba retains those fans with a personality often lacking in this sport.
He is a social media freak, often interacting with followers on Twitter and posting wacky viral video clips of himself. Earlier this year, he used the application to earn a guest spot on "Ellen," thanks to incessant clamoring for the honor. His first post-PGA Championship tweet came not long after he had finished and confirmed his happiness, as it read simply: "Ryder cup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Watson is not limited to emotions of enthusiasm. When he won earlier this summer at the Travelers Championship, his post-round news conference was often interrupted by joyous bouts of sobbing in regard to his wife's recent cancer scare and his father's current battle with the disease. When he took the first-round lead earlier this week, he repeated the act, saying, "Hopefully, you all don't think I'm a sissy. You know, I do hit the ball a long way."
It's true. Watson has never met a 300-yard carry he didn't like, employing a pink-shafted driver to launch drives into orbit. He is hardly just a bash-it-and-find-it type of player, though, instead preferring to work the ball in different directions and with varying levels of height depending on the situation.
Put it all together and you have a player who is eminently likable, who can bring a smile to the stoniest face when simply explaining a round of golf.
"I just tried not to throw up on myself," he said of his feelings down the stretch. "I get nervous. The game is fun, but I want to win every week. I'm like Tiger [Woods]; I come to a golf tournament to win. I just don't win as much as he does."
Really, he's nothing like Tiger. Honest to a fault, refreshing in both victory and defeat, Bubba is a next-generation superstar who cares what you think of him.
Whereas Woods responds only with "yes" when asked if he wants to play in the Ryder Cup, Watson says: "I'm going to do everything possible to spur the team on and play well. You know, what I bring to the table is I want to be there and I have a passion to play there. I might play terrible when I get there, but the one thing is I'm never going to pout for being there, I'm never going to put my head down, because you are representing your country."
Whereas Woods intimates only that his next trip will be home, Watson wells up with tears and says, "I'm happy. I get to go home and see my dad tomorrow."
Bubba Watson didn't win Sunday, but that underscores his newfound role as a fan favorite and ultra-talented up-and-comer. This will go down in history as the PGA Championship that Kaymer won and Johnson lost, but chances are we won't forget Watson's sincerity and playfulness for a very long time.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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2010 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Course: Whistling Straits
Where: Sheboygan, Wis.
Yardage, Par: 7,362 yards, par-72
Topics: Whistling Straits
Topics: PGA Championship