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Big driving Bubba Watson an attraction

One of the biggest talking points on the PGA Tour because of his booming drives, Bubba Watson is certain to attract the galleries at this week's Buick Invitational in San Diego.

Although the 27-year-old rookie has played only once on the world's most lucrative golf tour, he has already captured the attention of big names such as world number two Vijay Singh and teenage prodigy Michelle Wie.

Three-times major winner Singh shook his head after watching the left-handed Watson power drive more than 360 yards at the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this month.

At the same tournament, Watson played one group behind Wie for the first two days and the 16-year-old Honolulu schoolgirl got a close-up view of his distance when some of his tee shots ended up just short of the green on the par-four holes.

Playing in his maiden PGA Tour event, Watson ended the week in fourth place after shooting scores of 67, 70, 66 and 65.

By finishing in the top 10, the Florida resident secured his spot in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines where world number one Tiger Woods defends his title from Thursday.

Although Woods is among the longest drivers of the ball on tour, Watson is confident he can outstrip the game's leading player, as well as John "Grip it and Rip it" Daly and others.

"I've love to play with Tiger just because it's Tiger Woods," Watson told reporters at the Sony Open.

"I don't think John Daly or Hank Kuehne or Scott Hend can hang with me when I'm hitting it. If I hit my best, there are not too many people that can get within shouting distance."

Watson cultivated his status as arguably golf's biggest hitter on the Nationwide Tour, effectively the breeding ground for the PGA Tour.

At last year's Northeast Pennsylvania Classic, where he finished in third place, he delivered a spectacular display of power hitting to average 367.3 yards off the tee. His recorded drives at the tournament measured 400, 396, 382, 379, 372, 346, 333 and 332 yards.

"We keep worrying about Tiger (Woods), Ernie (Els) and Phil (Mickelson) and guys like Bubba Watson are going to come up," Singh said at last week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

"Bubba hits the ball 350 yards in the air and he made a fool out of everybody in Hawaii. It's incredible.

"You are not going to get guys like Tiger Woods coming up every year, but I am sure this guy is going to be something."

South African Rory Sabbatini, who tied for second at the Sony Open, was just as shocked as Singh after seeing Watson's power off the tee.

"He hits the ball an absolute mile," Sabbatini said. "I remember when I was a rookie and would just let it go.

"There's absolutely no possibility I could ever have hit it that far. It's just unbelievable.

"If he slows himself down around the green a little bit and spends a little more time just getting settled into his putting, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with."

The six-foot three-inch (1.90-metre) Watson, a self-taught player who learned the game by hitting wiffle (perforated plastic) balls around his house, believes his power stems largely from timing.

"My arc and my swing, my arms and then just timing," he said. "Plus you have to hit the ball pretty much solid all the time.

"If you toe it, it's not going to go as far. Most of the time, I hit it close to the centre."

Asked when he was last out-driven by a player, Watson replied matter-of-factly: "I don't know. If I hit it like I want to, I haven't seen a person yet that can that's on the Tour."

However, Watson conceded he felt some pressure to live up to his big-hitting reputation.

"I think about it every day," he said. "Every shot I'm nervous. If I hit it short, everyone is going to say, this guy is not that long."

January 24, 2006

 




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