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Bubba Back after Month-Long Break


Following his second Masters title in three years Bubba Watson took an extended break from competition. But after going 15 days without touching a golf club, vacationing at the Greenbrier in West Virginia and making media appearances wearing his newest green jacket, Watson is ready to go for this week's Players Championship.

During his time off Watson visited his hometown of Bagdad, Fla., where the 35-year-old was honored "for being a Bagdadian, as we call it," he told reporters Tuesday. While back home he received a hero's welcome at the local schools. "(The students) didn't know who I was, but they knew what the green jacket was," he joked.

Though he's been out of the limelight for nearly a month, Watson has been watching what's happening on the PGA Tour. "I haven't played since the Masters, so there's other people that are wrote about, there's other great golfers that are winning," he said. "So I've got to go out and win again. So I'm looking at it a lot different."

After winning his first Masters in 2012 Watson's family was simultaneously undergoing a bit of upheaval with the arrival of his and wife Angie's first son, Caleb. With his second green jacket Watson is getting better at handling the fame associated with being a major champion. "You have to remember, though, after I won the Masters in 2012, we had our son. I've never been a parent before, so it was a little different dealing with that, as it was dealing with being the Masters champion.

"So this time just, hopefully, my golf stays the same, gets better, whatever, but it's really who I am as a person, and so I think I know how to handle it a bit better that way. I didn't like all the attention before. Now I think I'm just prepared for it, know how to handle it. My hand doesn't hurt now; I know how to sign those flags. I'm good with that. I've signed quite a few of those."

Watson will be paired in the first two rounds with a couple of other 2013-14 season winners, Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker. The threesome is set to go off the first tee at 1:49 p.m. Thursday in the $10 million event.

Playing in his seventh Players, Watson hasn't had much prior success on the Pete Dye-designed TPC Sawgrass course, noting his finishes have been "three missed cuts, a 50 something place and two 37ths." The tight, water-lined layout - which he calls "mean" - and its tricky, shifting winds doesn't favor the left-hander's towering power fades that work so well at Augusta National.

Still, Watson is hoping for a better showing this week. "For me it's a difficult, difficult golf course . . . I get nervous on every shot . . . If I win, though, I'll think it's great."

Here's what else the folksy and most famous Bagdadian had to say to reporters during his Tuesday Q&A.

MODERATOR: Masters champion Bubba Watson, thank you for joining us here at the Players Championship, making your seventh start at TPC Sawgrass. Start with some opening comments about coming back to the Players Championship and maybe a few comments about the weeks off since you won your second green jacket.

BUBBA WATSON: Coming back here is always fun. I haven't played very well around here if you look at my - I was looking at my record last week, I was getting ready to come here, it was three missed cuts, a 50 something place and two 37ths. Around this golf course it's very challenging for me. When I look down No. 1 and No. 10, just to give you an example, when you look down those, it's hard to tell the fairway and the rough. It all kind of blends in together. To me, I don't like to look at a tree and aim at a tree. I like to see the lay of the land and that's how I hit my shots. So it's very difficult when you look at a golf course like that. So it makes it difficult for me. But the challenge is there. I'm on a streak. I made cut the last two years, so maybe a 36th this year, get my best tournament ever here.

And then the weeks off, we scheduled a vacation, me and my wife, way before the Masters, and so I didn't want to change that after winning the Masters, and I felt like going up to New York wasn't the right time for me, because it was the one year anniversary of the Boston bombing up there, so there was no reason for me to go up there with the green jacket. Let them mourn their year, their losses and what happened. So I didn't do any media. After the vacation at Greenbrier, we went down to - I hadn't seen my mom yet, so I went down to see my mom. Then we visited my schools. I felt like this time I should be about inspiring kids and different people, and so I wanted to give back and do some things at my schools that I went to. So I did that. Then roughly two weeks, 14 days, somewhere around there, 15 days, never touched a club, and so I've been practicing the last week and then came here yesterday.

Q. What's your relationship or your like/dislike of No.17 as a hole, and have you changed ways of attacking that over the years?

BUBBA WATSON: Well, it's kind of the whole golf course. Me and the golf course don't see eye to eye. So 17 doesn't see eye to eye with me. I think I've played it well over par. I've never looked at the stats, but I'm pretty sure it's well over par. The first couple years when you're playing here, you get juiced up, you get pumped up, so the ball goes a little farther. I've hit sand wedge over the green. I really don't miss it left and right, I miss it long or short.

Over the last couple years I've played it a little bit better, a little bit more consistent, trying to get used to the adrenaline. And the more tournaments you play on Tour, you get used to the adrenaline and how to play and how to deal with it. But 17 is a tough hole. It's a great hole for the fans. It's not really a risk reward, it's too short for that. The fans are going to have some cheers, they're going to have some boos, they're going to have some oohs and ahhs. I think it's a great hole.

Q. Aside from what you just said about how you handled the immediate aftermath with media from the Masters, how was it different this time, having won the Masters in 2014, from the first time, just in terms of maybe how you're going to approach your golf game or anything like that?

BUBBA WATSON: Well, I think the last time, if it's selfish or whatever, but I thought I was the coolest guy in the world; I have a green jacket. I thought I was the, you can't be beat, things like that. You know, the media, talking about how bad you are at golf in the months to come after that, people expecting you to do better, you personally expecting you to do better. This time my life has changed. Every year I hope my life improves who I am as a person and who I am as a parent now and who I am as a husband. And so this time, the green jacket, it means a lot to me personally for my career, for my own satisfaction, but off the course it really doesn't change me.

Like I said, I wanted to be about inspiration and helping young kids. Augusta National, bringing those kids there, bringing the juniors there, that inspired me that week. I went out there and saw them on that Sunday, and for me I wanted to do that to kids in my own little way, how I can try to inspire kids to be better, whether it's in golf or not. This one is a lot different. It's more for myself and after that, just go back and play golf. Just like anything, there's been winners since the Masters, I haven't played since the Masters, so there's other people that are wrote about, there's other great golfers that are winning. So I've got to go out and win again. So I'm looking at it a lot different.

But again, you have to remember, though, after I won the Masters in 2012, we had our son. I've never been a parent before, so it was a little different dealing with that, as it was dealing with being the Masters champion. So this time just, hopefully, my golf stays the same, gets better, whatever, but it's really who I am as a person, and so I think I know how to handle it a bit better that way. I didn't like all the attention before. Now I think I'm just prepared for it, know how to handle it. My hand doesn't hurt now; I know how to sign those flags. I'm good with that. I've signed quite a few of those.

Q. Can you talk a little bit more about going to Bagdad and Athens, and what were some of the highlights.

BUBBA WATSON: Going back to Bagdad, we went to the Historical Society first, for them to honor me for being a Bagdadian, as we call it. So for me to be honored there and being in that small town, to have those people there show up for me was a big deal for me.

Me going back to the elementary school, and for me to actually want to do stuff at school, because I wasn't the smartest kid in school, for me to go back there and have a check and to give a check for computers, for different technologies that they see fit, I gave them a check. For me to sit there on stage and realize what I was doing, to be able to give back to a community, be able to give back to a school that gave so much to me. I might not have used my time wisely in school, but the teachers were giving their heart to each kid and to me. So I wanted to give back a little bit. So I did that at each school, Bagdad and then Hobbs Middle School and then Milton High School.

The kids could care less about me giving the check, so I did a photo for all the kids and signed every single one, and then I bought pizza for the kids. The high school could care less who Bubba Watson is. They're like, free pizza? Yeah, perfect. We like that guy. For me it was kind of about thanking everybody in the communities, thanking my teachers that really put their blood, sweat and tears into helping Bubba Watson. I might not have paid attention like I should, but it was, again, just to say thanks to everybody that's helped me throughout my young life.

Q. Do you generally pay more attention to the FedEx Cup standings or the World Rankings, and has that changed since you now have a chance to go to No.1?

BUBBA WATSON: No, you always I hate to say that, but you always look at the World Ranking. The World Ranking is how - tournaments treat you differently, and your partners, your sponsors treat you a little differently if your World Ranking is up there pretty high. So yeah, so FedEx Cup is nice, but really the FedEx Cup doesn't start until the Playoffs, as we've seen in the past, where a guy can barely make it and then finishes second or wins, and he becomes No. 1 in the FedEx Cup. So the FedEx Cup, as of this point, it's too early in the year to start worrying about that.

Q. I think you were one of four players this week who could go to No.1 -

BUBBA WATSON: Let's go ahead and write that down on paper. My best finish is 37th. So unless 37th moves me to No. 1, we probably don't need to worry about that.

Q. Do you think it would be good or important for the game for somebody to seize that initiative and go to No.1 while Tiger is out of action?

BUBBA WATSON: Yeah, but nobody is trying harder because they're can be No. 1. It's still a golf tournament, they're trying to win it. If they're 800th in the world, they're trying to win the golf tournament. They don't care what place they're going to move to, we're trying to win a golf tournament. Sometimes people get wrapped up in becoming No.1. Everybody is tries to seize the moment, no matter if it's to move from 100th to 50th. They're trying to seize the moment, they're trying to win a golf tournament. So for us as individuals, that's what we're looking at. Each week is a new tournament, a new chance to win, and if that means becoming No.1 - if one of us wins this week and becomes No.1 in the world, that's great, but our ultimate goal is to win the golf tournament, no matter what place you're trying to move to in the world.

Q. Talk about adrenaline, the issue on 17 and hitting sand wedges over. What's the walk from 16 to 17 like for you? Are you thinking anything specific? What's going through your mind?

BUBBA WATSON: No, you're not. It depends on what day it is. If it's me trying to get out of there because I'm missing the cut or me trying to make the cut or me trying to contend for a victory. But walking there, you're trying to check the wind, you're trying to think about the wind, what you've hit before there, where is the flag, are you going to play safe, is the wind favorable for attacking.

So you're just thinking about the same thing you're thinking on any golf hole. It's nothing different. Just because there's a lot of water, there's a lot of water on a lot of golf courses. It's not because of that, you're just trying to go through your routine of every shot that you think about. Just like if you were walking to 18 tee, 18 tee is just as tough as 17, so you're thinking the same thing: Where is the pin, which way is the wind coming. So you're still thinking the same thing as any other golf hole.

Q. What were the most interesting congratulatory texts, calls, emails or letters you received after winning your second Masters?

BUBBA WATSON: You know, I'm a big Nabisco fan, so LeBron James sent me a DM on Twitter. So it was pretty funny, I wrote back to him through Twitter, I said, you know, I saw you on a cell phone commercial, so you can just text me if you want to give me your number. We don't have to Tweet each other. So he DM'd me his number back, so I've texted with him. Obviously, that's a big deal for me.

Kevin Durant, since the win, Kevin Durant, I've communicated with Kevin Durant through text message. That was pretty cool, to be able to talk to them and stuff. I sent some messages back to Kevin Durant, when that article came out, or the headline came out, which was one of the dumbest headlines I've ever seen. I guess it worked, because it inspired him a little bit, or maybe it's my text message that inspired him. We'll go with that. Those were the two that were the coolest things.

Q. The first time you won the green jacket, you kept it mostly in the garment bag, except for a couple of media outings. This time you've had it out with kids in Pensacola and in Athens with the UGA guys. Are you treating it differently or are you doing more things with it?

BUBBA WATSON: Like I said earlier, I think this time was about me wanting to inspire. When I was at Augusta, I got inspired by those kids. When you're watching those kids, you go back to your days. At 12 years old, your only dream is to make it to the Masters, to make it to the PGA Tour. When I got there, I became bitter, why am I not winning, why am I not playing good, so you lose focus of what really matters. So this time I wanted to inspire, and if that meant the people that played golf, if that meant people that played other sports, if that meant people that want to be lawyers, just telling them that they can make it. These teachers, the first thing I always said when I got the microphone is, I would say actually listen to your teachers, they actually know what they're talking about. They're trying to help you.

So that's what I wanted to do. I put the green jacket up now. I don't plan on bringing it back out. I took it to Athens, I took it to my schools, took it to Pensacola, I threw out the first pitch in it. I think that might be the first pitch in a green jacket, so that's pretty cool. Got that going for me. So now it's up. We asked the members and the chairman at Augusta if we're allowed to use it for certain events, but now it's done. I told him we're done with it now, it's up in the closet. Now we're going to hopefully try to contend at some other tournaments.

Q. Talk about what the reaction was from the UGA guys in Athens when you went there.

BUBBA WATSON: It was pretty funny. I let Golf Channel go with me to all these events, so we are going to try to do a special and show all this. So when I got there, the event was the student athletes, they have an awards banquet for the smart kids, I guess you could say. I wasn't ever invited to this banquet. My joke there was, it took me two green jackets before I finally got invited to this event. It wasn't because of my grades.

So I'm meeting these kids, and my speech there was teary eyed again, but my speech there was telling them, how cool is this, for what you do to the community, and for also being the top sports at UGA, you also do some community service work, you make good grades, you're doing all the things that I wish I could do and get better at. Again, those are kids that inspire me, kids that are playing a top sport, making the A and B honor roll, the A honor roll, and also doing work in their community. They're inspirational, as well. So that's the same thing I told them. Obviously, they were excited about the green jacket. They didn't know who I was, but they knew what the green jacket was.

Q. What is it about this place that seems to provide such a wide array of winners, long hitters, short hitters, straight, etcetera?

BUBBA WATSON: When you look at it, long hitters I think, if they are hitting their drivers well tee shots well, whatever, their irons or 3 wood they're hitting well, because they're so long, if they're hitting it good and hitting the fairways, they can obviously play around here, score it around into some of these smaller greens. Again, like Fred Funk, hits it straight down the middle. He doesn't have a problem like I have. He hits it right down the middle. Making putts, chipping and putting around here. Chipping and putting around here is really difficult because when you're chipping around here it's into the grain and it's real grainy around here. So if you're not careful, the grass will stand up and it makes you look like you've never chipped before in your life.

It takes whoever is on top of their game. When you watch around here, it's not really one thing that stands out. It could be you're putting really good that week or getting up and down; it could be your ball striking, hitting a lot of fairways. That's where this golf course doesn't favor anybody. It's just whoever is on that week, and you just never know. Paul Goydos, just like Fred Funk, doesn't hit it very far, but he contended. Then you have Sergio who hits it straight down the middle it seems like every time. Tiger is pretty good at every part of his game, and he's won here. When you look at it, it doesn't favor anybody, it favors whoever is playing good that week.

Q. What's your relationship like with J.B. Holmes and how did you feel when he won Sunday?

BUBBA WATSON: That was good to see. When you have somebody that went through a procedure like that, that's a big deal, and just him getting back to the Tour was a big accomplishment. Getting back to a level where he can keep his card, getting back to the PGA Tour, and then having a chance to win was a big deal. Then to actually capture the victory was a huge thing for him, huge thing for his family, and I'll bet the doctor was smiling as well, saying, hey, I guess I did all right. It was pretty good to see. There's a lot of stories like that on our Tour, and it was great to see.

Q. Given your track record here, how much thought have you given to maybe changing your approach to the golf course on certain holes?

BUBBA WATSON: Well, it's not really about changing approach. Like I said, I like to play practice rounds in the morning, but when I got out here yesterday morning on the first tee, I told my caddie, I said, so look down the fairway. And he said, yep. And I said, now where's that fairway, because where the sun was in the shadows, it's hard to see the fairway. For me I like to visualize that, and that's why I like desert golf, because I can see the fairway, it's green, and then the desert.

This morning I played the back nine, and Jeff Klauk, his dad was the - worked here for years, so he followed me around, him and his son, and I said, Jeff, look at this fairway. He goes, no, aim at the tree. I said, I don't aim at trees, I look at the fairway and try to shape my ball into the fairway. Where is the fairway here? Again, it's the same thing, the shadows and the sun. For me, visually, it's very hard to picture what shot and how to shape that shot. I love the golf course. I think this golf course is a great test. It's the best shape we've seen it in years. The fairways are perfect. You've got three greens that are iffy, but other than that this is the best shape we've seen it. For me it's a difficult, difficult golf course. Same with Hilton Head, that's why I don't go to Hilton Head, because it beats me up.

Q. Again, with 17, you talked about long and short misses there, not left and right. Is there any suspense while the ball is in the air going through your mind?

BUBBA WATSON: Yeah, just like I said before, every hole has suspense. You're trying to go over a bunker. It's not anything different. Obviously, if you look at my record, there's 17 other holes that are doing the same problem as that one. So for me, there's really no more suspense. I get nervous on every shot.

Q. Are you surprised often where it -

BUBBA WATSON: Yeah, when you hit a sand wedge that flies the green in the back water, yeah, you're pretty surprised. I'm not skulling it; I'm hitting it pretty good.

Q. How would you describe this course in one word?

BUBBA WATSON: Mean. Mean, to me. If I win, though, I'll think it's great. There's always going to be a few guys that love it.

Q. Going back to the No. 1 ranking, if you were to get to that point -

BUBBA WATSON: I'll retire. Well, maybe not. (Laughter.)

Q. Whether it's this week, a month from now, whatever, what would it mean to you?

BUBBA WATSON: It would be the same as the green jacket. I mean, it's - the green jacket to me is the pinnacle of the game, to win that. And to be No. 1, you know, we've seen guys that have been No.1, we've seen guys be No. 1 for one week. We've seen Phil Mickelson, who is arguably top five best of all time, and he's never been No. 1. That would just show me that the rankings are kind of messed up if Bubba Watson has been No.1 and Phil Mickelson has never been No.1. It would be the same thing as winning the green jacket. It would be great for my family. It would be great to say thanks again to my mom. But it's not going to ruin my life or my career if I never get there. Obviously, Phil is doing all right never being there before.

Q. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but is the yellow and black motif today some Waffle House idea and what was the reaction you've gotten from those pictures?

BUBBA WATSON: It's funny. Again, I don't read media and stuff. I don't look at the media about me. So my friends and some people, my manager, team, they said that what is it, Rush Limbaugh, that he yelled at this lady, and she was saying that it was bad for the U.S. or bad for kids, saying that athletes go eat at Waffle House? I eat at Waffle House. I wasn't faking it. I eat two grilled cheese and hash browns covered. Athlete or not, it's good food. I wanted to eat it, so I eat it. It's pretty funny how much press that got. There was no money changing hands, it was just me taking my friends, we went to Waffle House. At 12:30 at night, there's not many places open. And then we went to Steak and Shake after that and got milk shakes.

Q. It seems like this tournament has its own special atmosphere. How is it different than the other tournaments you play?

BUBBA WATSON: It's about the same. It's a big deal. This is our tournament, the Players Championship, and obviously the purse it's maybe a bigger deal. But no, they get behind - there's a lot of charities, there's a lot of people passing through this tournament that the PGA Tour brings in, from the Make A Wish Foundation to Birdies for the Brave, so soldiers are a big part of this tournament.

It just magnifies here. They bring a lot of people in, a lot of people that sponsor our tournaments throughout the year, our big, major sponsors to local sponsors. So, yeah, it's a different feel, because this is our showcase. That's why they built this clubhouse, to hold all these dinners and functions where we can meet and greet different people that help us throughout the year.

MODERATOR: Bubba Watson, thank you very much.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.