America's 'goofy' Bubba wins over Kent crowd with free-flowing style

Watson leads group of gung-ho players from across the Pond who are still in with a shout
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The Independent Online

Bubba Watson upset the French last month. In Kent, that makes him a hero. There is no love lost for the old enemy, either, along this stretch of the Garden of England where the French coast is so close they can smell the garlic if the wind is blowing in the right direction.

Watson is the new John Daly, an honorary Brit. Mind you; the old John Daly is here, too. The 1995 champion always pulls a huge crowd at the Open. If only these days for fans to gawp at his interesting dress sense. Round two saw him sporting a pink hat and shirt, and trousers that looked like they were made from a shower curtain stolen from Barbie's house. Watson is a sober version of Daly – in style and drink of choice. He has never had an alcoholic drink in his life. Or read a book. Or had a golf lesson. It doesn't seem to have held him back.

He's one over par and only five shots off the group at four under par at Royal St George's. He would have been even higher up the leaderboard if it were not for four dropped shots on the back nine yesterday including a double bogey at the 18th.

But that's just the way he plays. It's free-flowing twist or bust. He's fun to watch and the fans have taken to him. Watson is the Clown Prince of the new breed of gung-ho Americans proving there is life after Tiger Woods. On the tee with Bubba: Rickie Fowler, whose caps look like upturned saucepans, and Dustin "Elvis sideburns" Johnson. They are trying to break a run of five majors without an American victory.

Watson lost the play-off to Martin Kaymer at the 2010 USPGA Championship. His game should be tailor-made for links golf. "I look at the lay of the land and see the shape of the shot in my head. I see the lines," he said. When his swing and brain are in tandem, he makes golf look like a simple joyous game of ball and stick for kids. But when he's off kilter, he makes it look like fishing while riding a unicycle down a mogul ski run.

It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that Watson's boyhood hero was not an American with a paint-by-numbers country club swing. His inspiration came from watching European golf on TV. Watson is a student of the Seve Ballesteros School of Ad-Libbed Golf. "Seve was my hero. He was a real shot maker," Watson said. "When he hit into trouble he always found a way to get out. It was his imagination taking over. You can't teach that. You just do it."

The trouble with Watson, though, is that he has too much imagination. He is easily distracted and fidgets constantly like he's got ants in his pants. "I let stuff get into my head and start wandering off thinking about dinner and noticing people in the crowd," he said. "I talk to myself all the time. I probably do have ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder]. I have never been tested by a doctor but I guess that I do. I just can't sit still."

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are perfect to keep his busy brain from short-circuiting. His trick-shot videos have become viral classics. In this age of social media, that makes him a man of the people. "I guess I'm an entertainer," he said. "I'm goofy Bubba Watson from Bagdad." That's Bagdad, Florida, not Baghdad, Iraq. He's not that goofy, either. Watson is 6ft 3in with a thick mop of black hair crafted at the Ringo Starr School of Hairdressing. He's 32 going on 13 – a big kid who has likeability, as the X-Factor judges say. But not the French version, obviously.

Leading the charge for mad Americans at the 140th Open is the bearded Lucas Glover at four under par – the hirsute in pursuit. But he looks more like an American Werewolf in Sandwich than the 2009 US Open champion or potential 2011 Open champion. "They said nobody has won the Open with a beard since the 1890s," Glover said laughing. Does he have his plus fours ready? "No, you've got to iron those – and I don't know what an iron looks like." US Ryder Cup team captain Davis Love III must be tearing his hair out. He's at two under par and beating almost all of the candidates for his team. Maybe he'll throw a wild card to Tom Lehman. The 52-year-old 2006 US Ryder Cup captain and 1996 Open champion is also at two under par.

The good news for America is that Palmer is on the leaderboard at one under par. Unfortunately it's Ryan in 2011, not Arnold in 1961.