AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — He plays a sexy game of golf, owns two green jackets and — in what constitutes a show of major respect in these parts —Bubba Watson made rabid Georgia Bulldog fans take a break from spring football to watch some golf this weekend.
Asked which of those last two was the bigger accomplishment, Watson didn't hesitate.
"Well, obviously," he smiled, "you always say, 'Go Dawgs!'"
As he was fighting for the lead at Augusta National on Saturday, the giant screen at Sanford Stadium cut to a shot of Watson, and the local fans went wild. Watson left Georgia a year early to turn pro, but made sure to credit everyone there who prepped him for life out on tour.
"I've done quite well since then," he said. "We can share it."
Watson might seem like the guy to carry golf's flag in the coming months, especially with the two most popular players of this era nearing the end of their careers. Tiger Woods, 38, is on the disabled list until late this summer and Phil Mickelson, 42, missed the cut here and has already curtailed his schedule to focus on the biggest events.
The absence of both over the weekend sliced a third off the Masters' traditionally hefty television ratings, and left center stage wide open.
In stepped Watson, who taught himself how to play, hits the ball a long way and likes to take risks.
"No one plays the way he does," said Rickie Fowler. "Hitting it as far is a big challenge, I can't shape it the way he does and his attitude is something else. He's always out there enjoying himself."
Watson is just as quirky off the golf course. He owns a hovercraft customized to look like a golf cart, he's a member of the first — and thankfully, only — rap group on the PGA Tour, and between his tweets and the memes he's inspired, he's built out a nice little online space.
But will he ever be more than a local hero?
The short answer: Maybe.
Watson sealed his 2012 win with one of the most dramatic shots in the history of the tournament, a high, hooking wedge from out of the trees on the right of the 10th fairway. Instead of cashing in on every opportunity, Watson laid relatively low. He and wife Angie had just adopted a baby boy, Caleb, and he acknowledged being a new father and a celebrity was tougher than expected.
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