Bubba lives in Tiger’s old house.
Bubba parks in Tiger’s old spot.
Bubba practices at Tiger’s old course.
And now Bubba is winning the old green jackets that Tiger used to win all those years ago.
The question is can Bubba carry Tiger’s flickering old torch and become the face of golf?
Bubba Watson, the man who bought and moved into Tiger Woods’ old house in Isleworth and has won two of the three Masters he’s played in since, is the tour’s best hope of at least helping professional golf weather the nuclear winter of a potential Tiger-less tour. No, it won’t happen just because Bubba has won a couple of Masters, but it would and could happen if he could ever harness his incredible natural ability, become more consistent and start overpowering other courses the way he does Augusta National.
First things first: If we are indeed entering the post-Tiger Woods era in professional golf then the sport is obviously in trouble. The good ol’ boys at Augusta National may have tried to Tiger-proof their course at one time, but they surely couldn’t Tiger-proof the TV ratings last week when Tiger and his aching back skipped the Masters for the first time in two decades.
Many of the golf purists scoffed at me last week when I predicted that Masters ratings would be down at least 25 percent without Tiger in the field. “Bianchi, you need to stick to football and basketball because obviously you know nothing about golf,” one reader wrote. “People watch the Masters because of the beauty of Augusta National and the tradition of the tournament, not because of Tiger Woods.”
Yeah, right. When was the last time you tuned into a sporting event because of the beauty of the foliage? Sports fans want to see Tiger pumping his fist; not azaleas and magnolias fluttering their flowers. The TV ratings for the final round of the Masters on CBS were down 24 percent from last year. The ratings from the first two days of the coverage on ESPN were down more than 30 percent. And Saturday’s third-round ratings on CBS were the worst in two decades since 1995 — the year before Tiger turned pro.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Never in modern history has one athlete so dominated fan and media interest of a major sport like Tiger has with pro golf. An in his absence — whether short-lived or prolonged — Bubba is the sport’s best hope of a Tiger temp.
Young guns such as Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and even Rory McIlroy are all tremendous golfers, but they don’t capture the imagination like our boy Bubba. You see, Bubba is left-handed, he’s unorthodox, he’s emotional and he’s a strong Christian, which makes him sort of a Tim Tebow in golf spikes. He describes himself on Twitter as “Christian. Husband. Daddy. Pro Golfer.” He and his wife Angie couldn’t conceive a child so they adopted son Caleb from an organization that helps women in crisis situations put their babies up for adoption.
He’s also John Daly — without the cigarettes, booze and black jack. Like Daly, he gambles and takes chances (on the course), grips it, rips it and hits the ball unfathomable distances — and he does with a pink-shafted driver. He’s a small-town country boy from Bagdad — a smudge on the map in Florida’s panhandle. He’s friends with the guys from “Duck Dynasty” and owns the General Lee, the famous 1969 orange Dodge Charger made famous in the old “Dukes of Hazzard” TV series.
And this story gets even more Bubba-licious. Can you believe Bubba tells all of these high-priced, high-falutin’ swing coaches where they can stick their launch monitors and videotapes? He plays by feel and has never taken a golf lesson or had a swing guru.
How do you not love our boy Bubba, a man who celebrated his Masters victory Sunday by going out to the Waffle House afterward?
And the best part of all is that unlike Tiger, he didn’t try to pick up the waitress.