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Bubba Watson out of ‘dark place,’ ready for Masters

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Bubba Watson chips from the creek to the 13th green during a practice round for the Masters on Monday.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Always with Bubba Watson, you’re never sure what you’re going to get.

Lefty genius? Weepy champ? Enlightened father? Boor?

All of them? None of them? Or, perhaps, even this?

“(My) life’s in the right spot, and golf’s in the right spot,” Watson said Monday. “Golf’s easy when you free it up.”

Thus began Masters week for one of the game’s more complicated figures, and his words bear remembering. When Watson has found himself in the right spot, he won the championship in 2012 and ’14.

But that he could harbor such thoughts before he plays in his 10th Masters is to make his 2017 disappear, no mean feat. The experience had him considering retirement. Its beginnings came in his last visit to Augusta National, when he missed the cut for the first time — five bogeys in the first six holes Friday saw to that — and then snapped at reporters — “Golf is tough. But writing articles is easy” — when asked what happened.

He apologized both by tweet and video, but this was only an overture. Struck by an illness he still doesn’t divulge, his weight dropped some 30 pounds, and his game cratered. He went winless on the PGA Tour for the first time in five years. In 22 events, he broke par just eight times. He finished in the top 10 four times but missed almost twice as many cuts (seven).

On Monday, he called the experience simply “a dark place.” Ranked No. 4 in the world just the year before, he plummeted to No. 117.

“There’s things that we don’t ever talk about that causes somebody not to play good or somebody to play great,” Watson said. “There’s things behind closed doors that people don’t know about, that we don’t talk about, that can cause you to be in good or bad frame of mind.”

But as his strength returned, so did his game. In Los Angeles in February at the Genesis Open, he birdied three of the final eight holes for a two-shot victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau. The win, his first in two years, came on the same Riviera Country Club course where he won his first Tour championship, and he wept on the 18th green.

Six weeks later, Watson ripped through the WGC-Bell Match Play Championship, defeating Justin Thomas in the semifinals (when a Thomas win would elevate him to the No. 1 world ranking) and obliterating Kevin Kisner, 8 and 6, in the finals. Cried again. That was only two weeks ago, and Watson hit Augusta National talking like a changed man.

His appreciation for the Masters remains boundless.

“I mean, this is the greatest sporting event, I believe, in the world,” he said. “It’s obviously the greatest tournament in the world, what they have been able to produce here. Year after year, we’re watching the same gold course, the same venue, the same everything. And when is the last time anybody shot four rounds in the 60s here?”

Well, never.

Watson disclosed he no longer reads “any media,” which might have played into his turnaround. He also singled out his caddie Teddy Scott, parenthood and his wife, Angie, for helping him out of his dark place. He cracked a couple jokes. It almost sounded like Bubba Golf was back.

“I don’t know if you ever played the game golf, but it’s very difficult to do it every day perfectly,” he said. “It’s never been done. Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods has definitely come close to doing it perfectly. It’s just golf. Bubba Golf, yeah.

“It’s the way I play golf. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad.”

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