The Open: Bubba out to be a hit from left-field

Bubba Watson during a practice round at Muirfield. Picture: Reuters
Bubba Watson during a practice round at Muirfield. Picture: Reuters
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MASTER blaster Bubba Watson will take inspiration from namesake Tom when he tees it up attempting to win a first Open golf title at Muirfield on Thursday.

The 34-year-old from Bagdad, Florida, practised on the East Lothian course yesterday alongside Webb Simpson and showed himself to be something of a historian as well as one of the biggest hitters on the tour with an average distance off the tee of 315.2 yards.

“I’ve had nine holes, played the back nine, and the wind made it really tough.

“But it is a beautiful golf course,” was Watson’s first impression.

He added: “I’ve always been an admirer of seaside golf because of the imagination it takes to play.

“And the more I see Muirfield the more I appreciate what Tom Watson did round here. It is an inspiration to me.”

Back in 1980 Tom won his third Open title at Muirfield while he has also prevailed here in a Seniors Open.

There is also, though, something of the John Daly about Bubba.

When Daly visited Muirfield for the first time in 1992 the practice range had to be specially extended to cope with his booming drives. Bubba – he was named Gerry Lester, jnr, but his dad took one look at a 9.5 pound new arrival and proclaimed “we got a Bubba instead of a baby” – is equally prodigious though he isn’t sure if he will be going full bore given the liveliness of the baked fairways and the punitive rough.

“If the wind changes then yes I might hit driver. If the wind stays in the same direction as I’ve just experienced then no I won’t hit driver.”

Not since Bob (now Sir Bob) Charles won in 1963 has a left-hander won the Open.

The odds are shortening, though.

Five of the last 11 US Masters have been won by left-handers with Watson joining Mike Weir and three times champion Phil Mickelson on the role of honour.

Surely it is only a matter of time before a southpaw gains possession of the Claret Jug again and Watson is already off to a flier in the popularity stakes.

Soon after pitching up, he took to the links of the North Berwick West course and as word spread through the town found himself having putting competitions with local youngsters who had turned out to follow him.

Such engagement can only further enhance the appeal of a superstar whose seeming devil-may-care approach – remember that approach shot from out of the trees at the second play-off hole with Louis Oosthuizen to clinch the 2012 Masters? – sits comfortably with galleries.

“It was good, great fun playing North Berwick. It’s always good when the kids turn out,” he said.

Very much a family man himself, he acknowledged his life changed with that Masters win but not so much as when he became a dad to Caleb. “My life has changed a lot since winning the Masters but mainly because of my child. With all the media attention I want to spend more time with my family but it would be great to win here.

“Any time you have a chance to win a major is special,” said the man who has yet to win on the US tour this year but whose Open prospects appear to improve annually.

From two missed cuts he finished tied 30th in 2011 followed by tied 23rd and when he tees off alongside fellow big hitters Nicolas Colsaerts and Dustin Johnson at 8.44am on Thursday the advice to spectators must be ‘bring binoculars’ if you want to track the ball down these running fairways.

With Bubba around the phrase “hitting out of sight” might never have been more apt.

But he will be determined to demonstrate too that he has a touch to match his distance hitting and there can surely be no better role model for Muirfield than Tom Watson as Bubba has been quick to grasp.