DORAL — Bubba Watson may not have been able to catch Bryson DeChambeau and Crushers GC at the LIV Golf team championship on Sunday, but a stellar final-round performance at Trump Doral Miami proved he’s still got the game to be a star in the future of the Saudi-backed league.
Watson shot 67 and his team, the pink-clad Range Goats, finished 9-under and two shots away from the team championship behind DeChambeau’s victorious Crushers GC.
Fifteen months after a meniscus surgery that kept him off the course in LIV Golf’s inaugural season and relegated him to an announcing role in last year’s team championship in Miami, Watson recaptured the free-swinging game that powered him to two victories at The Masters.
He threw two hands in the air and celebrated with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman after sticking his approach shot inside three feet on his final hole, closing his round with a birdie.
“I’m excited. I went bogey free on the Blue Monster,” Watson said. “The whole goal was to play solid golf and help the team. And I did.
“What a year. The Range Goats came out of nowhere. We played great and just have to improve a little bit.”
Watson, 44, featured in the day’s premier grouping with Crushers GC’s DeChambeau, Torque GC’s Joaquin Niemann and reigning champion Dustin Johnson of the 4Aces. The grouping drew the afternoon’s largest crowds.
Watson carded an eagle on No. 8 to briefly pull the Range Goats even with Crushers GC midway through the shotgun start round. DeChambeau quickly restored Crushers’ advantage and the Range Goats never pulled closer than a stroke the rest of the way.
His 67 was tied for the fourth-best individual round on Sunday, besting his previous season-high of 10th place at Tulsa in May. It was arguably Watson’s best performance since he shot 23-under and tied for fourth at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans on the PGA Tour in April 2022.
He was far from the premier performer in his first season playing with LIV Golf.
Watson finished the season 36th in LIV’s points standings. He was eight spots away from relegation, though he’s ineligible for such a fate as team captain.
“I’m the weak link right now on our team,” Watson said in press availabilities Thursday. “I’ve had some good rounds. I’ve had a couple finishes but Sundays have been a struggle, and so that’s where I have to – make the team better.”
His team has gotten better, notably due to the addition of 2023 LIV Golf individual champion Talor Gooch, who played for Johnson’s 4Aces last season. The Range Goats were among the worst teams in LIV Golf last season sans-Watson.
The team’s other addition was Thomas Pieters, who defected from the PGA Tour, while Harold Varner III, the team’s lone holdover from last year, improved significantly and placed seventh individually in the regular season.
Range Goats GC finished third in the 2023 money list among LIV Golf teams, pocketing $16.75 million in winnings. The team finished last in points and never finished in the money while playing under the name Niblicks last season.
Those are the type of management decisions Watson has welcomed to his plate as LIV’s franchise model creates new opportunities for team captains.
After Sunday, an offseason of sponsorship, marketing and franchise development for his Range Goats will have the added brightness of a spectacular on-course send-off.
“Man, there’s a lot of stuff next year,” Watson said. “For me personally, it’s learning. It’s learning how to be an owner/captain and get people to do things but also practice golf at the same time.
“And then being behind the scenes, learning about LIV and seeing where it’s going, it’s pretty special and seeing the interest of players outside of LIV wanting to come here. It’s pretty cool being part of a franchise and being able to be a part of the opening of this and being a piece of it.”
Eric J. Wallace is deputy sports editor for The Palm Beach Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: LIV Golf: Bubba Watson proves he’s still got game, vision for future