Breaking Down Bubba Watson's Struggles After Implosion at 2014 Memorial

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Breaking Down Bubba Watson's Struggles After Implosion at 2014 Memorial
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

To paraphrase that memorable biblical line, “He who lives by the driver, dies by the driver.” It aptly captures Bubba Watson’s unwatchable final round at the Memorial Tournament and may be a harbinger of future troubles for the wayward star who led the field after 54 holes. 

Watson began Sunday a stroke ahead of Scott Langley and two strokes ahead of Hideki Matsuyama, followed by Adam Scott at two behind with Charl Schwartzel leading a pack of six who were only three back.

It was anybody’s game, especially with the notoriously unpredictable Watson in the lead.

You see, Watson’s Sunday troubles are nothing new, as he is now 0-for-5 in situations where he has held the lead going into the final day of a tournament. 

At Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, this year’s Masters champion held or shared the lead for much of the day, looking to become the first lefty to win the event.

Instead, he beat himself, falling to third after watching Matsuyama beat Kevin Na in a one-hole playoff.

That “that should have been me” stuff has gotta stop if Watson wants to ascend to greater heights on the PGA Tour.

In typical Watson fashion, when the day began, it looked like he would just outdrive everyone in order to post his second win of the season. Attacking the first hole, he pummeled his drive 363 yards right down the pipe, eviscerating Langley’s “weak” 300-yarder.

Yet rather than knock his next shot close to the hole, he had to pour in a 30-footer in order to make birdie. That might sound like he had the momentum. Instead, it was indicative of Watson’s inability to control his irons, and when his driver ultimately failed, it signaled an end to his place atop the leaderboard.

Watson is arguably the most fun player to watch on the tour.  “He hits it like a six-year-old,” said CBS analyst Nick Faldo when describing Watson’s homemade, out-of-his-shoes swing.

He not only hits the ball farther than anyone but is the most creative scrambler since Seve Ballesteros.  Even when he seems to be in trouble, he possesses the strength and the imagination to save himself.

This was most apparent in his famous shot out of the woods to win the 2012 Masters.

Watson is also a master of shaping the ball, and when he is on track, there are few who can match his wizardry. That is why he was leading after three days at the Memorial. That ability to fade a six-iron approach or place a ball 20 feet behind the cup only to have it spin back to within a few feet should be a winning formula.

But such magic can only go so far, as proven by what happened at the Memorial.

After birdying the first two holes after the turn, he quickly lost his ability to hit the ball in the fairway, and when you hit a ball over 300 yards, that often spells big trouble.

On the 15th hole, he hit it so far out of bounds that it went over the trees and into a home’s backyard. He subsequently settled for a double-bogey, ostensibly taking himself out of contention.  

“The [sic] bad decision, trying to be a hero,'' he said about the way he played Sunday, per Associated Press writer Rusty Miller (via Yahoo! Sports).

Darron Cummings/Associated Press
This was unfortunately Bubba's common pose on Sunday at Memorial.

And that desire to be a hero is precisely what may be holding Watson back from greater success. In Watson’s case, he has to learn when to rein it in a bit.  We saw Tiger Woods do that when his driver let him down and he would turn to long irons or fairway woods off the tee. Watson could learn a lot from Tiger’s winning approach.

In some ways, Watson’s game is reminiscent of another lefty—Phil Mickelson—whose aggressive style has brought him 42 tour wins and five majors. But Mickelson also has a more traditional stroke, and with his inimitable ability to loft chip shots close to the pin, he is perhaps the game's greatest off-the-green player.

It’s hard to tell a guy like Watson to be less aggressive since that has been at the core of his success. But on a narrowly cut course like Muirfield Village, wayward shots are punishable by double-bogeys.

And if you have the lead, the idea is to hold it. Just ask Dustin Johnson, another long hitter who has been beset by bad choices. 

Ranked fifth in the world going into Sunday, Watson seemed like he would take the Memorial and make a play for the No. 1 spot in the world.

With Woods and Mickelson out of the picture due to injury and mediocre play, respectively, the talented Watson has a great opportunity to oust Scott, who currently holds the No. 1 position.

But he has to gather himself and think like a winner. 

Instead, he wasted another opportunity at success Sunday.

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