By RENALDO DORSETT
A few weeks ago, Bubba Watson wasn’t expected to compete at the Albany Golf Course, but following a series of fortunate events and a torrid stretch over the last two days of competition, he emerged as the 2015 Hero World Challenge champion.
Watson clinched the tournament title with a final round 66 to finish at -25 under par, besting the 18-man field which featured many of the top performers on the PGA Tour.
Due to his commitment to play in Thailand next week, Watson originally opted out of participation in the Hero World Challenge because it appeared he would not be able to acquire a passport for his young daughter Dakota.
Then, after Jason Day withdrew from the tournament due to his own family commitments, Watson re-entered his name in the event and got the documents in time for his entire family to make the trip to the Bahamas.
“I guess I’ve got to thank Jason Day for backing out, I have to thank the US government and passport office for getting Dakota a passport so we could be here,” he said. “For us it’s a good ride, a fun ride. My wife jokes on the green there, she said I guess she’s off the team since she’s the one that was putting the pressure on about we can’t go if Dakota can’t go. She felt bad but it worked out in the end.”
After shooting identical 67s in rounds one and two, Watson - the fourth ranked golfer in the world and former Masters champion in 2012 and 2014 - said it was a renewed focus in his game which made the difference this weekend and he hopes makes the difference moving forward.
“You know, the key for me was about staying focused, staying committed to my shots. Even though I was struggling a little bit, I was still in it. Even when I missed the fairways or missed the greens, I was still focused on what I had to do to not make a triple bogey or a double bogey,” he said. “I think every year we’re getting better at consistency. I believe consistency is the biggest thing about this game. Guys that have been up there every year, that’s what I’m looking at, that’s what I want to do. I want my name to be close to that leaderboard every tournament every year. So people are always talking about Bubba Watson and how consistent he is and how good he is. That’s my whole focus right now is every year getting better and better.”
This year’s Hero World Challenge was hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation and the off-the-course contributions to the game have served as an inspiration to Watson, who hopes to have a similar impact.
“Truthfully, my goals in my career have changed over the years and watching Tiger Woods, what he’s done for the people off the golf course, my goal is now stretched to that. I think I can do more off the golf course. That’s why I’m moving back to Pensacola. I feel like helping the hometown that’s raised me, made me who I am. What he’s doing off the golf course is more impressive to me, the way I want to live my life, the way I want to give back,” Watson.
“The golf has given me so much, why not give back. I think my own personal belief, my own theory, athletes in every sport, they need to give back a little bit more. Off the golf course is where I want to do more. My personal career, at the end of the day when I’m passing away, nobody’s going to think about ‘man you only won nine times,’ They’re going to think about all the other stuff I did.”
Patrick Reed ended the tournament with a 66 to finish in second place to finish at -22 under par. The Houston, Texas native said his experience at the Albany Course has been so positive that he plans to return.
“It was awesome. You know, I didn’t realise how close we were, and to be this close from Houston, it’s definitely a place that I want to come back and spend some time and play some good golf,” he said. “I don’t know where they have the tournament next year, hopefully it’s here because we really enjoyed it and hopefully we can play some good golf and have another chance. Hopefully if I can get hot a little earlier so I could at least have a chance to win rather than birdie on the last just to get a solo second.”
World No. 5 Rickie Fowler shot 64 on the final day to move up five spots into third place, finishing at -21 under par.
“I had a good weekend, made a lot of good swings and didn’t really have to make many putts. I hit a lot close so that felt good. It would have been nice to see a few more putts go in, but solid weekend, nice to come back and get a good finish,” he said. “Obviously you see the scores, you have to play well to get a good finish here so you still have to work your butt off a bit to earn your points. It’s a fun event, it’s good competition so you still have to play some good golf to see if you can finish top 10 out of 18 guys.”
The top ranked golfer in the world, Jordan Spieth, ended his incredible 2015 season with a fourth place finish at this weekend’s event.
Spieth, who won the 2015 Masters and US Open tournaments and was the defending champion at the Hero World Challenge, said he looks to build on that momentum for 2016.
“I just think you don’t accept a layover. You don’t accept a hangover. There’s no reason I should. It’s not like it was my first season out and just broke out and did that. It’s a matter of closing tournaments out. I think these last two weeks, the fact that I didn’t win when I had a chance may actually be a good thing for me. I’m going to look at it positively that you can’t settle down, you’ve got to work a little bit harder,” he said. “Everyone is obviously playing a high level of golf right now and they’re going to carry that into next season. So if I want to stay at the top, I’m going to have to outwork them and that’s going to be challenging.”
The Hero World Challenge featured a pair of golfers based here in the Bahamas which consider the Albany their home course, Adam Scott of Australia who tied for 10th at -16 under par and Justin Rose of England who tied for 15th at -13 under par.
Rose finished strong by accomplishing his goal of setting a new course record on the final day when he shot a blistering 62.
“Absolutely, that’s all I had to play for. That’s all I wanted today,” he said. “I was very aware of the nine unders shot this week and I was very aware of trying to get to 10. You know, obviously a great putt at 16, that obviously made it doable. I knew the only thing I can come out of the week with here would be bragging rights and have the course record. I thought it would be nice to come out with the record as a hometown boy.”
With the strong finish to 2015, Rose said he has set the tone for his 2016 season where he plans to play more on the Albany course.
“I didn’t play it a lot actually, and then quite often when the greens are different speed how they are 51 weeks a year. I was astounded by how poorly I read the greens considering they’re my home greens, so I thought that was interesting,” he said. “It’s been a great year, I’m excited about next year already. I just wanted to come out today and at least put a decent score together.”
The field of 18 PGA Tour players were invited as follows: the current four major championships winners, the top 11 players available from the Official World Golf Ranking, the defending champion and two special-exemption players.