SHANGHAI (Reuters) - American Bubba Watson notched his first victory outside the United States in fine style at the $8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions tournament on Sunday.
Masters champion Watson added another big title to his resume when he sank a “once-in-a-lifetime” 30-yard bunker shot for eagle at the par-five 18th to earn a spot in a playoff and then drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the same hole minutes later to edge South African Tim Clark.
The importance of the win in front of a packed and boisterous gallery at Sheshan was clear by Watson’s ecstatic reaction after he pocketed $1.4 million and improved his playoff record to 4-1.
“I’ve always dreamed about winning at least once outside the U.S., to say that I can travel a little bit,” admitted a player who once seemed uncomfortable venturing to foreign shores but will climb to number three in the world rankings on Monday.
“My goal has always been to get 10 (career) wins. Now I’ve got seven.”
The 36-year-old emerged victorious after a wild finish in which five players were tied for the lead late in the final round -- although Watson was not one of them after bogeying the 16th and double-bogeying the 17th.
However, he catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard with his stunning bunker shot, before Clark calmly rolled in a five-footer for birdie as the pair tied at 11-under-par 277, one shot ahead of Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata and American Rickie Fowler.
McDowell, who led for the first three days, and Iwata both had good birdie chances to join the playoff but their putts slid left of the hole.
Fowler and German Martin Kaymer also needed to birdie the last to join the playoff, but both found the water hazard -- Fowler in front of the green and Kaymer behind it.
Fowler salvaged a par but Kaymer had a double-bogey to finish three shots behind.
Watson has always openly displayed his emotions -- both positive and negative -- and he was not about to hold back after his bunker shot at the 72nd hole.
“I was just standing there in awe but I didn’t know how to react so I just kind of screamed and lost my voice,” he said.
Watson was surprised to attract a large gallery on the other side of the Pacific: ”Obviously a lot of people like to hit the ball far so I guess that helps that people wanted to watch me play and cheer for me and every once in a while go straight.
“They never know what they are going to get, so maybe they get excited about it.”
Editing by John O'Brien