What Bubba Watson Must Do to Become a Contender at 2014 Masters

Mike DudurichContributor IMarch 19, 2014

Bubba Watson and family celebrate his win in the Northern Trust Open.
Bubba Watson and family celebrate his win in the Northern Trust Open.Reed Saxon/Associated Press

Bubba Watson won the 2012 Masters in miraculous fashion, sling-shotting a pitching wedge out of the woods and onto the green to set up a stunning victory.

Since then, however, Watson has become the firecracker in the box that turned out to be a dud instead of skyrocketing to bigger and better things. Until he won in January at the Northern Trust Open, it had been 41 tournaments and just short of two years between victories.

I was one of those who labeled Watson a one-shot wonder in 2012 and I don't believe I've wandered too far away from that.

But I have to admit, he has raised my eyebrows a bit as the road to the Masters gets shorter and shorter.

Since the beginning of the wraparound 2013-14 PGA Tour season, Watson has played in eight tournaments. He's posted six top-10s in those, including a win, T9 and T2 in his last three.

It probably won't come as a great shock, but that's the best start of a career that started in 2006 in which he's won five times and has made no less than $1 million in any year.

The key to him doing well at Augusta again (he was a miserable T50 in the Masters last year) is to find a way to keep putting the ball the way he is now. Never a great putter, Watson was good with the flat stick in the Masters he won.

His last five years of strokes gained-putting are not good. In 2012, the year of his only major victory, Watson was minus-.285, 157th on the PGA Tour. What that tells you is he was hitting the ball close a lot at Augusta National, or at least as close as you dare on some of those greens. He finished second on tour in greens in regulation percentage.

This year, his number is .473, which ranks him 29th on tour. Being ranked just inside the top 30 doesn't exactly put up on par with a young Tiger Woods, but it's a marked improvement for the guy who shapes shots like nobody else on tour.

He's also leading the PGA Tour in driving distance at 318.6 yards on the measured holes. Watson is fifth in eagles per hole, which is the way it should be, considering the distances he has left into most par fives.

Watson is 20th in greens in regulation, again, not sparkling but certainly another reason why, going into Thursday's first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he's second in scoring average (69.25) this season.

For Watson, this is a perfect week to keep that mojo going. He has done well at Arnold Palmer's playground, especially in the last few years when he's gone T14, T4 and T24.

His ability to hit the ball as far as he does makes every course he plays vulnerable and the ultimate indicator of that is the fact that he's only hitting 57.74 percent of his fairways off the tee. That ranks him 120th on tour.

Ideally, he'd like to improve on that statistic before he and those tall Georgia pines have too many face-to-face experiences in early April.

But then again, look what the guy from Bagdad, Fla. has accomplished this year even with hitting it all over the lot.

When Bubba Watson unleashes the driver, he goes deep.
When Bubba Watson unleashes the driver, he goes deep.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

He's going to have to prove that he wasn't a one-shot wonder. It's understandable that Watson would have a letdown after winning the one tournament every professional who has ever played the game covets.

But it was a letdown that lasted two years, far too long for a guy who had gotten a taste of the high life in April 2012.

There's a big difference in perception between a one-time and a two-time major champion.

What does Bubba Watson have to do to make himself a contender at Augusta National?

That's a very simple answer.

Keep doing what he's been doing. He's playing as well as anybody and a continuation of that will put him in a nice place in the first major of the year.