BUBBA Watson, the defending champion, has shrugged off being portrayed as the least popular player in golf, admitting he knows himself that he needs to work harder to become a “better man”.
In a poll conducted by ESPN.com among just 100 PGA Tour players, one question they were asked essentially got them to pick out which of their colleagues they’d like to see beaten up in a parking lot.
It resulted in Watson, the winner here twice in the last three years, getting 22.6 per cent of the vote – nearly double that of second-placed Patrick Reed.
“Here is the way I take it,” said Watson in reply to being asked if he was irritated by such negative publicity in the week he is bidding to become just the fourth player to win the season’s opening major back-to-back.
“I take it as I need to improve as a man. Since my rookie season to now, I think I’ve gotten better. But obviously if people don’t like me there’s more room for me to improve. It’s a challenge. It’s great. I’m glad that it came out and it’s going to help me improve.”
Watson denied he had any sense of being unpopular in the locker room but revealed he had put his own name down, having been one of the players who took part in the poll.
“One of those names was me; I wrote it down myself,” he added. “I’ve never been in a fight in my life, so if I was in a fight, it would be my fault. I caused somebody to get angry. So, yeah, I wouldn’t help myself either.
“I’ve had some mess‑ups on Tour and I’m glad people call me out when they do; that’s the only way I can get better. If I don’t know about it, then I can’t improve.”
One thing Watson is aiming to improve upon this week is giving a better account of himself as the defending champion than he did two years ago, when he finished in a tie for 50th after just scraping into the weekend.
He was “scared to death” then of commitments such as the Champions Dinner but attended that last night feeling much more comfortable and is fancying his chances of bolstering a run in which left-handers have won six of the last 12 Masters. “It’s the only course I’ve won twice at,” revealed Watson to being asked where this layout sat in terms of ones that suit his eye, “so it’s pretty good – and it’s a good one to win twice at.”
Bidding to achieve that feat this week is 2013 winner Adam Scott, who is back using a long putter after experimenting with a short one recently in preparation for the anchoring ban coming in at the beginning of next year.
“On quick, fast greens at Doral, it was really nice,” said the Australian, having hinted there in the WGC-Cadillac Championship that he was ready to make the switch permanently.
“But then, in the next two weeks, they were not quick and fast and the adjustment was much bigger than I thought. I didn’t make that adjustment quick enough, so I was a little out of my comfort zone.”
Admitting that he now envisaged using his long putter in all four majors this season, Scott added: “Going back to it was a piece of cake – it was very easy. After two days practice with it, I felt like I was at the levels I was at last year, which are very high, and that was the reason for it.
“I’m coming to a major. I’m not here to throw the balls up in the air and see where they fall. I want to make sure I give myself the best chance to perform at the highest level I need to win.
“Basically that will be with the longer putter because I’ve done more practice with it.”
That change having been made, Watson picked out Scott as the man who could be his main rival this week.
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