Rory McIlroy sinks but Bubba Watson beats a kidney stone

Watson won at the Northern Trust Open

This might be a working title for his autobiography: Bubba Watson, you couldn’t make me up.

The richest tapestry in golf contributed another unlikely picture as well as his ninth career PGA Tour title, seeing off Dustin Johnson, a resurgent Adam Scott and a wilting Rory McIlroy to win the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. This being Los Angeles you would expect a degree of drama to attend the week. Watson set the ball rolling with a kidney stone, the passing of which was described thus: “My baby came out, I guess.”

This was the second episode of renal colic yielding its own unique cargo via the Watson urethra. The first delivery occurred mid-round in New Orleans. Though he remembered the circumstances the exact date escaped him. He thinks it might have been 2010. “I’m already a head case, so my thoughts of seeing red liquids coming out, I thought I was dying without pain.”

The evacuation freed Watson to unleash the inner Bubba across Tinseltown. This he did with his usual enthusiasm, chilling with Steve Ballmer, the owner of basketball franchise the LA Clippers, and looking on as his three-year-old son, Caleb, played drums with Justin Bieber. As you do.

And when it came to the golf, it was the good Bubba that set about Riviera, holing a couple of late birdies to close out the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing on 15 under par, his final-round 68 leaving him one clear of Scott and Jason Kokrak – whose name he could not pronounce – with Johnson two back.

“He’s wearing the course out on the toughest day,” was the considered commentary of Scott, who watched Watson complete his round on TV. “I think he’s hit 15 greens today, very tough to beat that when you have a couple of shots to make up.”  

Essentially this is how golf proceeds. When any of the great players finds that lethal rhythm there is little others can do. The best ones find it more often than others. McIlroy must have thought it was his day when he opened his final round with an eagle to join Watson in a share of the lead.

The next time it might be. On this occasion the game delivered yet another lesson in respect. It is not supposed to be easy, and can bite hard the moment any player drops his guard. After three rounds in the 60s and that opening eagle, the narrative was spinning towards the golden finale that sees one of golf’s vibrant, commercial drivers setting the agenda as if it were written.

How quickly the commentary shifted ground. Seven bogeys later McIlroy was no longer the player with the game on a string but one with work to do if he is to turn his form around before the Masters six weeks hence. Don’t worry, Rory, Bubba missed the 54-hole cut at Torrey Pines last week and spent Sunday playing with the kids.

McIlroy tees up at the Honda Classic at the PGA National in Palm Beach on Thursday for the eighth year in a row. Well, he does live in the neighbourhood and gets to lay his head on his own pillows at night. Sunday’s 75 should have rid him of any complacency, and the closing birdie, holed from 21 feet, demonstrated how quickly fortunes can change in this game when the ball finds the cup.

“One of those days,” McIlroy said of his Riviera finale. “I felt like I played three solid rounds of golf and didn’t make many mistakes. Today I just couldn’t really get anything going. There are encouraging signs, but I turned a chance to win into a Top 20 at the end of the day, so that wasn’t too good. I’ll have a nice day off, regroup and hopefully [at the Honda] put myself in contention again.”

McIlroy has a rum record at the PGA National, winning in 2012, sparking “toothgate” after walking off the course mid-round in 2013, losing in a play-off in 2014 and missing the cut last year. 

Watson’s victory in a great field at Riviera has whipped up the pre-Masters frenzy around the two-time Augusta champion. You can imagine the temperature hike should McIlroy slot a win on Sunday, kidney stones or not.

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