Watson still confident after tough day at Masters

Rory McIlroy & Jeff Knox (Andrew Redington/ Getty Images)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bubba Watson would’ve preferred to play better, of course.

He’s not complaining too much, though. Not when he has a share of the lead heading to the final round of the Masters.

Watson struggled to a 2-over 74 Saturday after two straight rounds in the 60s, his card marred by four bogeys on the front side and some ugly three-putts.

On moving day, he headed in the wrong direction, renewing the hopes of his closest challengers. But Watson played just good enough to keep his spot in the final group with 20-year-old Jason Spieth, the two of them tied at 5-under 211 after a warm, sunny afternoon at Augusta National.

To Watson, that was especially important in his pursuit of a second green jacket.

“That’s where you want to be,” he said. “You want to know what everybody is doing. When you come down 18, you know what all the scores are. That’s where everybody wants to be on Sunday.”

Watson, who won the Masters two years ago, had the patrons roaring early on when his approach at the par-5 second rolled down to about 5 feet from the cup. That set up an eagle, taking his score to 8 under.

But, for the most part, there weren’t a whole lot of highlights on a day when the breeze picked up for the late starters and the greens were as firm as Watson has ever seen.

“It was a difficult round,” he said. “But if somebody told me Monday I’d shoot a 74 and still be tied for the lead, I’d have taken it all day long.”

He’s looking forward to his pairing with Spieth, who is playing in the Masters for the first time and hoping to become golf’s youngest major champion since 1922. The two have become good friends on the PGA Tour, attending Bible study together and rooting for each other to do well. If Watson isn’t the one donning the green jacket, he hopes it goes to the youngster.

“I love the kid,” Watson said. “He’s a great player. A guy like that has no fear. His game just gets better and better.”

For some reason, Watson struggled to judge the distance on his shots. Some flew over the green. Some came up short. His sense of direction was fine but he couldn’t seem to find any consistency with the yardage.

There were some shaky moments with the putter, as well. As the par-5 13th, he put his approach shot right in the middle of the green, giving him a look at eagle. Three putts later, he walked off with a disappointing par.

At the other par-5 on the back side, Watson flew the second shot over the green and wound up with another par, failing to take advantage of two prime chances to go lower.

But, at the final two holes, he knocked down a pair of testy par putts, keeping him right he wanted to be going to Sunday.

In the lead.

“Look where I’m at,” he said. “If you get down on yourself when you’re still winning, you have issues. I do have issues, but …”

His voice trailed off, the room filling with laughter.

There’s definitely a sense that Watson is comfortable with his place in life, no matter what happens in the final round.

“I’ve won one, so I’ve got that going for me,” he said. “If I play bad, I still have a green jacket.”