BUBBA Watson reckons he’ll have visited the “home of golf” before arriving at St Andrews in July for the Open Championship.
In his eyes, the sport’s “mecca” is Augusta National, where he’ll be the defending champion for a second time in The Masters in under a month, rather than the Old Course.
“Even though I’m 36, I still feel like a kid when I get to Augusta,” said Watson in a teleconference last night. “It’s the home of golf. It’s the mecca of golf.
“I mean, who doesn’t want to be a member there? Who doesn’t want to be able to play there? Who doesn’t want to put on that Green Jacket? Everybody gets excited there.”
In repeating his 2012 victory last year, Watson joined a list of two-times Masters winners that includes Ben Hogan, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros.
Now he’s bidding to emulate Sam Snead, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson by claiming the Green Jacket for a third time. “To win it three times would be remarkable and something I’ve never dreamed of because I’m a guy called Bubba from a small town who never had a lesson,” he admitted.
Confident he’s better equipped to be returning as defending champion than 2013, when he just scraped into the weekend, Watson believes there will be less heat on him heading into the event than Rory McIlroy due to the world No 1 having a chance to complete the career Grand Slam.
“I don’t have any pressure as I’ve already got two jackets so I would say Rory because look at the talent he has and the records he could beat when he gets older,” he replied to being asked who faced the toughest test.
“But I don’t call it pressure at all for McIlroy. I call it a thrill to have the chance of such an accomplishment at 25.”
On heading back up Magnolia Lane as the title holder for a second time, Watson added: “Hopefully just knowing that I’m not as nervous or not as anxious to see all these great players at the Champions’ Dinner means I can perform a little bit better [than 2013] and have a chance to win on Sunday.”
One of Watson’s biggest threats at Augusta could be Jordan Spieth, who claimed the Valspar Championship in a play-off on Sunday to became just the fourth player since 1940 – after Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Robert Gamez – to win twice on the PGA Tour before his 22nd birthday.
The Texan, who played on a losing American side in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, shared the lead with Watson heading into the final round last year before finishing joint second.
After beating Patrick Reed and Sean O’Hair with a birdie at the third extra hole in Tampa, Spieth is up to No 6 in the world and has his sights set on usurping Rory McIlroy at the top of those rankings.
“It’s really cool to have my name go alongside those,” he said of the others to win twice at such a young age. “But right now what I’m really focused on is Rory McIlroy – that’s who everyone is trying to chase.
“Our ultimate goal is to eventually be the best in the world and this is a great, great stepping stone. Going into the four majors of the year, to have closed one out in this kind of fashion is going to give me a lot of confidence.”
Marc Warren’s hopes of joining Sandy Lyle, Stephen Gallacher and amateur Bradley Neil at Augusta have been handed a big boost after the Scot secured an invitation for next week’s Valero Texas Open.
It means Warren, who stayed at 51st in the latest world rankings, will have one final chance of climbing into the all-important top 50 before the cut off for the final invitations at the end of this month.
“Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get him an invite for Bay Hill [venue for this week’s Arnold Palmer event], but we have managed to get one into Valero Texas Open,” said Warren’s manager, Stuart Cage.
Still in freefall in the world rankings is Tiger Woods, down another eight spots to 87th after ending last year ranked No 32. Adding to his woes, Woods has now been replaced by McIlroy as the face of EA Sports on its new video golf game.
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