LOS ANGELES – Bubba Watson ended his big week in L.A. as the star of his own show Sunday at Riviera.
Two shots behind with four holes to play, Watson made birdie on two of his last two holes to overtake Jason Kokrak and hold off Adam Scott for a one-shot victory in the Northern Trust Open.
Watson, who closed with a 3-under 68, won at Riviera for the second time in three years and moved back to No. 4 in the world.
He was among a half-dozen players who still had a chance over the back nine under warm sunshine. Watson took advantage of some late mistakes by Kokrak, who was going for his first PGA Tour victory, and his two birdies were enough to turn back the late heroics of Scott, who chipped in for birdie on the 18th for a 67.
That group of contenders did not include Rory McIlroy.
In his Riviera debut, McIlroy made eagle on the par-5 first hole to tie for the lead. He didn’t make a birdie until the 18th, giving him a 75 to tie for 20th.
Adam Hadwin was the top Canadian, finishing tied for 16th at -7. The former Team Canada member climbed 34 spots up the leaderboard Sunday thanks for a blazing 5-under 66.
Hadwin’s Canadian compatriot and fellow B.C. native Nick Taylor finished at 5-under and tied for 26th.
Watson, Scott, Kokrak and K.J. Choi were tied for the lead through 11 holes remaining and all of them dropped shots to fall out of the lead.
“For me to come back … and pull one out in a tough way means a lot,” Watson said.
He finished at 15-under 269 for his ninth career victory on the PGA Tour.
Kokrak had the lead to himself when Choi made bogey on No. 12, Scott missed 5-foot par putts on the 14th and 15th holes, and Watson went long of the 13th hole and watched his 20-foot par putt spin out of the cup.
Kokrak was firing at dangerous flags and pulling off the shots, stretching his lead to two shots with a daring approach to 4 feet on the 13th.
But one shot changed the dynamics of the final hour.
From the middle of the 15th fairway, Kokrak went long on one of the more difficult greens at Riviera and badly missed an 8-foot par putt as his lead shrunk to one. Watson stuffed his tee shot into 5 feet for birdie on the 16th, and Kokrak did well not to lose the lead by making a bending, 6-foot putt to save par from a bunker.
“You’ve got to eliminate the mental mistakes,” Kokrak said. “Hitting it in the middle of the green on 15 is just … I had a two-shot lead at the time.”
The decisive moment was on the par-5 17th, where Watson hit his tee shot so hard that both feet came off the ground. He reached the green with an iron and two-putted for birdie from about 40 feet. Kokrak hooked his tee shot into the trees, hit his second into a bunker and had to make a 6-foot par putt, falling one week.
Ahead of them, Scott stayed alive with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th to get within one shot, and then the former Masters champion chipped in from 25 feet behind the green on the 18th, the ball slamming into the pin. That momentarily put him in a tie for the lead until Watson made his birdie on the 17th.
Once Watson hit his approach to 15 feet, Scott knew his chances were over.
“A guy like Bubba, he’s very tough to beat,” Scott said. “He’s proving tough to beat from that position. He’s wearing the course out on the toughest day.”
Kokrak had a putt from about the same distance to tie for the lead, but the ball slid by the left side of the cup and he settled for a 68. Two putts later, Watson was waving to the crowd and headed to another trophy presentation.
What a week for Watson. He took his 3-year-old son to hang out with Justin Bieber. He made a cameo appearance in a “Girl Meets World” episode (they even gave him a line), and he dashed out of Riviera to hang out with his pals at the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors game Saturday night.
Best of all was winning another tournament.
Dustin Johnson also was in the mix for much of the day, making too many bogeys to hold him back. He closed with a 69 and finished fourth, two shots behind. Marc Leishman of Australia, one shot behind for much of the back nine, failed to save par from a bunker on the 16th and closed with a 69 to join Choi three shots behind.