KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Bubba Watson is among the pre-tournament favorites for this week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where he has bittersweet memories of his performance at the links-style venue five years ago.
Though Watson was beaten in a playoff for the 2010 PGA Championship by Germany’s Martin Kaymer, he looks back at that near miss as the moment when he finally realized he could compete toe-to-toe with the game’s best players.
”It just showed that I have the ability to play golf in a tough competition like that,“ the American world number three told reporters at Whistling Straits on Tuesday. ”Have the ability to perform at a high level, under stressful situations.
”I think I shot in the 60s in the last round, played great. Birdied the first hole in the playoff under pressure. I did everything I was supposed to do, except one guy beat me.
“That just shows I have the ability to perform on a tough set-up and tough golf course under a lot of stress. It gave me confidence in all parts of my game, in every tournament, not just majors.”
Watson closed with a 68 in 2010 and matched Kaymer with a birdie on the first extra hole before his title bid evaporated on the next hole after he struck his second shot into a creek in front of the green on the way to a double-bogey six.
The left-hander will never forget, however, how nervous he felt going into that week.
“In 2010 I was still new to the game, I never had a win until two weeks before the PGA Championship,” he said. “I was scared to death playing PGA Championships and majors.”
Five years later, Watson returns to Whistling Straits as a double Masters champion who has triumphed eight times on the PGA Tour, with two of those wins coming this season.
”I remember the golf course being tough and fairways are the key around here,“ he recalled of his runner-up finish in 2010. ”If you don’t hit the fairway ... it’s going to be very difficult to make pars and have a good finish.
“It’s all about fairways around here, and that front nine seems like it gets tougher every time I see it. I‘m looking forward to the week because I’ve played here before. I’ve got some good memories here, and hopefully I‘m up to the challenge.”
Editing by Larry Fine