While the results haven’t quite been there this season, Bubba Watson felt his game was still on an upward trend coming into the Genesis Open, saying he “had the shots now” after a second-round one-under 70 at Riviera Country Club.
The two-time Masters champion on Saturday confirmed his assessment was correct, posting a six-under 65 to vault into the solo lead at 10-under 203. It may have looked like a breeze, but no Bubba round is, even if it did feature a front-nine five-under 30.
“It was a grind. It was easy when you have a tap-in [at the first],” said Watson, who made eagle on the opening hole at Riviera. “I just hung on the rest of the time, you know, a chip-in at the par-3 [sixth]. I tried to leave it below the hole. I was trying to hit the green not leave it off the green but I chipped it in, so made up for it. I just played solid.”
After his blistering opening nine that included three birdies, an eagle and no bogeys, Watson played smart golf, adding a birdie at the short par-4 10th before making four consecutive pars. His first blemish didn’t come until the par-4 15th.
“I made a mistake, in the right area, made a bogey, but it was a fun day.”
Watson has had plenty of fun days at Riviera, winning twice in his career on the George C. Thomas Jr-designed course. But even with those experiences, he knows Sunday will not be easy.
“You got to know that this golf course is going to make you mess up,” he said. “The grass, the way the ball bounces on it, you’re going to have shots that you think are perfect, I’ve hit a couple of those this week and they’ve ended up not perfect. So, it’s one of those things, but it’s golf. That’s not just this week, it’s every week. You got to know that you’re going to make a mistake, especially on a Sunday, and you got to keep fighting and hope your fight is better than everyone else’s fight.”
If Watson is going to get his 10th career victory, and first since his 2016 win at Riviera, he’ll have to fend off some strong competition, including Patrick Cantlay, who carded a two-under 69 that included a 54-foot birdie putt at the par-4 18th to get into Sunday’s final group at nine-under 204. He’s looking for the second win of his career and the second this season, the first coming in November at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
A stroke back is Australia’s Cameron Smith, who will join Watson and Cantlay in the final group after shooting a flawless six-under 65 to reach eight under. Smith hit just nine greens in regulation, but saved par on each occasion when he missed. In fact, the Queenslander leads the field in Scrambling this week, saving par 19 from 21 times when he’s missed a green in regulation.
Among the group at eight-under 205 is Kevin Na thanks to a four-under 67 that included a double-bogey and a bogey at the 12th and 13th holes that he was able to recover from with a chip-in birdie from a bunker at the 14th and another birdie at the 17th.
“Wheels were coming off and I got in the bunker and I looked at Kenny [his caddie] and I said ‘I’m going to make this’, and that last roll, you could see how pumped I was,” he said.
Smith and Na are joined by Tony Finau (68) and Graeme McDowell (70). World No.1 Dustin Johnson is just four back at six-under 207 after posting the round of the day, a bogey-free seven-under 64 that came after playing his first 36 holes in one-over par.
Australia’s Aaron Baddeley posted a 67 to sit alongside Johnson in T-8 and just four shots behind Watson.
Adam Scott (71) is two-over par and T-54. Greg Chalmers (74) is three over and T-65.