The last time a pair of left-handed golfers finished first and second at a PGA Tour event was six years ago when Phil Mickelson beat Mike Weir by four shots at Pebble Beach. A more exciting, closer duel happened on Sunday at Torrey Pines, with Mickelson and Bubba Watson battling in the final two groups for the Farmers Insurance Open title. Actually, to spice things up, Jhonattan “Johnny” Vegas, the Venezuelan rookie who won last week’s Bob Hope Classic, jumped in the mix, putting added pressure on Watson until Vegas plunked his second shot on 18 in the water.
Known best for his tremendous distance off the tee, Bubba, who notched his first-career victory in a playoff at last year’s Travelers Championship, showed off his delicate touch around the greens. Chipping from a hot lie on No. 17, he saved par with a huge up-and-down, which included draining a clutch nine-footer. Then on No. 18, he hit a pretty terrible second shot with a seven-iron on the par 5 and ended up with a downhill lie in the bunker. Bubba knocked it to 12 feet, and impressively, knocked the downhill slider for birdie in the cup.
That’s what it takes to win in the bigs. After all, the PGA Tour is just one drawn-out putting-and-chipping contest.
To be honest, Bubba surprised me that he kept it together because admittedly, he’s still nervous coming down the stretch. His putting stroke looked shaky on the 14th and 15th when his 10-foot birdie attempts didn’t even hit the hole. Bubba’s caddie, Ted Scott, deserves some credit for keeping his player calm during the pressure moment.
“Like my caddie said on 18, even though I pushed it, he said it’s just me and you out here,” Bubba said in his post-win press conference. “He goes, it’s a 7 iron, you’ve got 187. You’ve got 198 to the top of the hill, so it’s a perfect 7 iron. The wind is just coming across.
“Me and you, there’s no way you’re hitting a bad shot here, because you’re going to beat me all day long. You’re going to show off in front of me. It’s just me and you. It’s just me and you. That’s what he kept saying. Don’t worry about the people yelling, the people moving, all that. Don’t worry about what could happen if I hit it close, don’t worry about winning, don’t worry about losing, you just hit the shot.
“That’s what he kept saying all day. Let’s just worry about me. I three putted a hole for bogey. He said you’re going to do that. The greens are going to bounce, something’s not going to go your way, so don’t worry about it. Let’s just keep fighting.
“Then I hit a good shot on the next hole. Then I birdied number 9. So he said just keep doing what you’re doing. If somebody beats you, then they beat you. All you can do is control yourself. So that’s what I did. I kept my head down and kept doing what I wanted to do and somehow it worked out.”
Naturally, Mickelson kept things entertaining. Just a day earlier, he explained his conservative approach to tackling the Rees Jones re-design because the course doesn’t reward risks as it should. Phil, known for taking the riskier option, decided to lay up from the rough on the par-5 18th before Bubba putted out.
“I had 227 to carry,” Phil explained. “If I hit a hybrid, the ball would have come out dead, so I couldn’t have made it over the water. But the way my 3 wood is, the ball would have come out hot and it would have went screaming over.
“So I didn’t really have a shot to get it on the green. I felt like I had a better chance to make a three from the fairway trying to use that bank and bringing the ball back or flying it in.”
In the always-intriguing game of “What Will Phil Do Next?” he quickly answered when caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay tended the flag from 72 yards out in the fairway.
“Well, it’s going to have a chance I felt like it would have a chance,” said Phil. “About 10, 12, 14 times a year I ended up hitting the pin with a wedge, and it ricochets all over the place and I didn’t want that to happen. I also wanted to give it two chances. I wanted to fly it in, possibly, or I wanted it to skip past it and maybe bring it back and give it a second chance to go in and the pin would only get in the way of that. So I didn’t want to have the pin in if I was going to try to make it.”
Phil knocked it to about four feet, which sealed the victory for Bubba, but made the birdie to post his fourth consecutive round in the 60s and finish in second alone. Of course, Bubba cried.
Meanwhile, Johnny Vegas showed he was the real deal. Playing with perhaps the least pressure in the field — a win for the rookie earned him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour — he fought his way into contention for the second consecutive week in a much stronger field. Vegas’ drive landed in the rough on 18 and with Bubba safely in the fairway, Vegas had to go for the green in two. His five-iron came up short in the water, but a fine performance by the young Venezuelan, who has quickly become a fan favorite.
“I knew I had to go for it,” said Vegas, who made bogey and finished tied for third. “And Bubba is a really long hitter, so I knew he had a short iron to the green. So I tried to hit it close and put a little pressure on him.”
While pressure is something Bubba seems to be learning how to overcome (even though he executed quite nicely on Sunday), he certainly must have collected extra confidence with his clutch performance at Torrey Pines, not to mention excellent momentum.
“I learned that no matter how many rounds of golf you played, how many times you’ve been in the lead, and how many times you’ve won, you still get nervous,” admitted Bubba. “I was scared to death out there.”