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U.S. OPEN AT OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB | RELATED STORY

How can you not root for a guy named Bubba?

June 17, 2007|Bill Plaschke

OAKMONT, PA. — I'm cheering for the guy whose most powerful club is bathed in pink.

I'm cheering for the guy who occasionally scratches his back with his putter.

I'm cheering for the guy who, after hitting a brilliant tee shot on the 13th hole Saturday, suddenly disappeared into a trailer behind the bushes.

He was using the bathroom, but he seemingly didn't tell anybody.

By the time he emerged a few minutes later, everyone else in his twosome, including his caddie, had already marched down the fairway, leaving him to walk nearly 200 yards alone.

Spotting this solitary figure with the rumpled shirt and sweating sideburns, a fan stood and shouted about the only thing you can shout to a golfer named Bubba.

It wasn't, "You da man!"

It was, "Git 'er done!"

Today I am cheering for Bubba Watson to steal the U.S. Open golf trophy away from manufactured greatness and highbrow pretension, bringing it to America's country-fried links.

Bring it home to a perpetually sunburned bomber who never took a lesson, who never had a coach, who has never won a PGA Tour event, and who would proudly bring that trophy to a Bagdad that makes sense, his tiny hometown in the part of the Florida panhandle known as the Redneck Riviera.

"I've got 18 holes," he said early Saturday evening before driving off to a cheeseburger dinner. "If I play some of the best golf I ever played, I could be walking home with a trophy."

He paused as if realizing that Bagdad is 974 miles from Pittsburgh.

"Or flying home with one," he said.

On second thought, shucks, he'll just walk.

"I would give everybody high-fives down the road," he said.

Bubba Watson has 18 holes today, and I'll be cheering for him on every one as he tries to overcome a three-stroke deficit and a leaderboard that includes youth, privilege and, yeah, that guy.

"Tiger has a few majors," Watson said. "He can wait."

After a day in which Watson lost more ground but gained more fans, the golf world can't wait to see what Watson will do or say next.

"He's very, very real," said his wife, Angie. "I think that's what people embrace in him."

She's a former WNBA player, so guess how Watson will prepare for today's final round? Playing HORSE in a backyard hoop at his rented home, of course.

"I think I'm coordinated a little bit, you know?" he said.

The 28-year-old went into Saturday's round at Oakmont Country Club in second place, one stroke behind Angel Cabrera. After a birdie three on the seventh hole, he was actually in first place.

"It was all very overwhelming," his wife said.

Then it was gone, the lead lasting exactly 22 minutes, disappearing in typical Bubba fashion.

He put his second shot on No. 9 into the thick rough, then duffed his attempted escape, with the ball traveling about five feet.

Instead of backing off and breathing deep and carefully trying again, he angrily stepped up and swatted at the ball almost immediately, knocking it across the green and back into the rough.

He finished the hole with a triple-bogey seven and, well, that is the difference today between Watson and tournament leader Aaron Baddeley.

"One bad shot, that's the way I look at it," Watson said.

Oh, he had several other bad shots, but he continually saved par with dramatic putts, finishing the day at five over par, in a four-way tie for third place behind Baddeley and Tiger Woods.

But back to that quick shot. He claims it was not because he was angry.

"It was the same shot, it was just five feet closer to the green," he said with a shrug.

Others, however, looked at it as another display of Watson's infamous lack of patience. Sort of like what happened at the sixth hole, when he stepped away from a putt to scold a photographer, then scowled and muttered at the photographer as he walked to the next hole.

"The media is always in your way, you know?" he said with a grin.

Watson's quick boiling point is renowned; Woods even preaches patience to him during practice rounds. They play together, in part, because Woods loves to hang out with someone who drives the ball farther than he does. "[Woods] sees a young guy who struggles a little bit, and he's been nice so far ... until I start beating him, I guess," Watson said.

Then he laughed, and everyone laughed with him. It has been that way for Watson since he showed up this week. He's a fresh breath of grass-roots golf amid the humid climes of the establishment.

He's John Daly, but without the personal problems. He looks like a cross between Elvis and Gomer Pyle.

His only true golf teacher was the mirror that his right-handed father would hold up to help him understand how to play as a left-hander.

Yeah, he would be the first lefty to win the U.S. Open.

"My dad told me to hit it as hard as I can ... and then we'll figure out the rest," he said.

He would also, perhaps, be the first player to win a U.S. Open with a golf bag adored in the sort of words found on a tombstone.

"In Loving Memory of Bill Weir," reads his bag, honoring an old mentor who used to hang around his hometown golf course.

He would certainly be the first player to win a U.S. Open with a caddie whose hat bears the brand name of a granola bar, and perhaps the first winner who wipes his face with a towel that looks like it came from a country kitchen.

His real name is Gerry, but his nickname is perfect. He's not only Bubba, he is a Bubba, and after victories by the likes of Geoff and Retief and Michael, isn't it time our national championship be handed to one of those?

Git 'er done, indeed.

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

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