|Bubba Watson comes within a stroke of matching the course record at Doral. (Getty Images)|
DORAL, Fla. -- After seven years and three victories on the PGA Tour, it's pretty obvious that Bubba Watson doesn't just play the game by feel, as the cliche goes, he plays it by sheer intuition.
It's about nerve, swerve and verve.
The power-hitting lefty Friday came within a stroke of matching the course record at Doral Golf Resort & Spa's famed Blue Monster, despite a steady breeze of about 20 to 25 mph. That hardly stopped Watson from yanking his pink driver from the bag on every hole, bashing away in the spontaneous style that has come to define him.
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Incredible case in point: After driving it in the rough on the sixth hole, he found his ball behind a tree. So he aimed 40 yards right and launched a towering slice that plopped down 7 feet from the hole for yet another birdie.
"Who doesn't draw it up that way?" Watson cracked. "The sad thing is I could see that in my head."
The lines in his head weren't nearly as crazy as the numbers on the scorecard. Watson piled up nine birdies and an eagle to finish with a 10-under 62 to take the 36-hole lead at the Cadillac Championship at 12 under.
Watson can play the game with the unbridled glee of a kid sometimes, which can be equal parts entertaining or alarming, depending on the state of his game. Or his brain. He might be the sport's biggest savant since John Daly, another guy who played aggressively, drew up strategy in the dirt and was followed by a massive throng of devotees.
Playing partner Justin Rose, who shot a scorching 64 of his own Friday, was fighting himself all day, trying to decide whether to watch Watson or stay in his own cocoon. Watson is the golf equivalent of rubber-necking when the police lights are flashing somewhere.
Hard to avert your eyes.
"You can't watch him, some of the lines he takes off tees can suck you into a false sense of security," Rose said, laughing. "He's cutting off doglegs, and for me it's not doable."
When you can fly the ball 330 yards in the air, as Watson can when he gets into one, that's redline territory on the odometer of Rose and nearly everybody else in the game.
"He's going after it, and it's fun to watch," Rose said. "Obviously he's got great control out of Bermuda [grass], too, and he's 60, 80 yards from the green, and he's not scared to let it bounce two or three times and let it roll up to the green. He has great hands and can work the ball."
As is the case at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Watson struggles to visualize his shots at Doral because of the Bermuda grass that populates the entire course. Fairways meld into rough, the rough morphs into greens and it's all the same color. Fairways are not defined, greens don't "pop" in his mind's eye. For a player who admits he has attention-deficit issues, it's a struggle to dial in.
"I'm battling myself more than I am battling anybody else," said Watson, 33.
But brother, when he latches on between the ears, it can produce some incredible stuff. Watson estimates that he has shot 59 about 10 times during practice rounds and shot a 58 last Dec. 30 at the Estancia Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was coolly Tweeting play-by-play over the last few holes of the latter.
After losing in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago, Watson basically put away the clubs until last weekend, when he had nine birdies in a practice round.
"This could sound like a kind of stupid thing to say, but it almost seems normal for him to go out and do what he did," said his caddie, Ted Scott, who has seen Watson blowtorch a series of courses in practice over the years.
"He seems to make a bunch of birdies whenever he is relaxed," Scott said. "But on this course, in this wind, that was impressive. He's obviously not afraid to be shooting low numbers."
With Watson and Rose amassing 17 birdies and an eagle, pity the third member of their group, Mark Wilson, who shot a 2-under 70 that under most circumstances would be a pretty fair effort. Rose described Wilson as "black and blue."
Imagine how Watson's golf ball must feel.
Given the impressive array of physical skills he brings to work every day, Watson said he has been working on improving the mental side of the game -- he doesn't use coaches, for his brain or his swing, and never has.
As is usually the case, he made a joke of it. Any self-respecting shrink would have him fitted for a straitjacket.
"Nobody will take the time to help me," he laughed. "It's a lot of work. No, it's just me, just stuff that I'm doing, consciously doing, thinking about trying to slow down. Trying to focus more mentally and trying to slow down on the golf course a little bit."
Pity if it happens, really. Because when the bomber from Bagdad, Fla., is really on his game, it's the greatest show on turf.