Much of the buzz earlier in the week was the return of Tiger Woods to Torrey Pines, but he would finish well down the leaderboard at just 1-under-par for the tournament. Instead, the story in the tournament’s final stages was a pair of left-handers and a rookie named Vegas.
Bubba Watson clung to a one-stroke lead over playing partner Jhonattan Vegas and Phil Mickelson, who was just behind them in the final group, going into the par-5 18th hole.
Watson was on his way to a birdie on the 18th. That meant if Vegas was to catch Watson, he had to go for broke on the final hole and attempt to reach the green in two shots if he was to have a chance at a tie.
“I knew I had to make an eagle and put a little pressure on him,” said Vegas, whose shot was short, splashing into the pond in front of the green. “Unfortunately, things didn’t go my way.”
That made Mickelson the only man with a chance at catching Watson. Sitting 72 yards away from the hole after two shots, Mickelson had to hole out to tie. He walked all the way up to the green, studied the situation around the cup and walked all the way back, fans shouting encouragement every step of the way. Making such a shot would be a miracle for most, but not out of the realm of possibility for Mickelson.
“I realize it’s Phil Mickelson,” said Watson. “He can make any shot he wants to. He’s a great wedge player. I knew he had a shot at making it, so I didn’t get too excited.”
Mickelson took his swing and the ball took flight. Mickelson’s caddied pulled the flagstick as the ball headed toward the hole. It hit within a foot of its target, then rolled to a stop 4 feet, 4 inches from the cup. The shot was close enough that the crowd held its collective breath, exhaled an audible groan of disappointment, then applauded the effort.
Watson was in the scorer’s tent signing for the 67 on his scorecard when he realized he had won the tournament.
“Over the radio they said he missed it, so I teared up a little bit,” said Watson, whose 16-under-par 272 total was one stroke better than Mickelson, who shot a 69 in the final round.
It was the second career win for Watson, who earned $1,044,000 for the week’s work.
“It just shows I can do it,” said Watson, who then added with a laugh, “I’ve done it twice now. I’m only like 50 (victories) behind Phil and 80 behind Tiger, so they better watch out.”
The trophy that came with the victory will go on Watson’s mantle. And the surfboard he also was presented? What he does with that remains to be seen.
“I’ve never surfed in my life, so I have no idea,” said Watson. “You know what, I’ve got a lake house in North Carolina, and I’ll probably take it out on the water just to see if I can stand up on it when there’s no waves and try to make it into a paddle board.”