2018 Travelers Championship grades: Bubba Watson rallies for third PGA Tour win of 2018

CROMWELL, Conn. -- Bubba Watson has built out a case, a firm one, as the best golfer of 2018.  

On Sunday, the booming lefty came back from six strokes down in the Travelers Championship to win by three strokes (finishing 17-under) and dominantly claim the 12th PGA Tour win of his career. His victory came thanks to an emphatically impressive lob wedge shot from 71 yards that landed two feet to the hole. on No. 18 There's something about River Highlands -- the Connecticut course that's got a special, positive voodoo to it -- that has endeared great endings in recent years. Just last year, for example, Jordan Spieth holed out from the bunker to win.

And now, Watson's dart on 18. The short birdie putt that came after that roar of a moment wound up giving Watson a one-stroke lead on Paul Casey, who held the lead for more than 25 consecutive holes to that point. 

"You had to fly it over the bunker and get it to check somehow," Watson said. "It's one of those where it could have easily went short in the bunker or over the green, just because you guessed wrong on how it's going to come out. The lie was kind of tight down there. So to open the 63-degree up to try to cut it a little bit to add spin to it. For it to come off perfect like that, I knew as soon as I hit it, you could tell the distance was right."

This is the third Travelers title of Watson's career (2010, 2015 were the others). Billy Casper, who won the tournament four times, is the only other person to win this event at least thrice. Watson shot a 7-under 63 on Sunday to get him 17 strokes below par for the four-day aggregate. 

The Travelers trophy also gives Watson his third win of the year. This amounts to a full-fledged resurgence. After failing to win a PGA Tour event in 2017, he's blasted up to third in the FedEx Cup thanks to this; Watson was sitting in 15th heading into the Travelers. Fitting for him to win, as Watson's been a longtime proponent of the event and helped its rise in popularity over much of the past decade. 

When he won the Travelers in 2010, it was the first PGA Tour victory of his career. 

Watson's six-stroke comeback also amounted to a nine-stroke turnaround on the final day, the biggest swing in the event's history. (Brad Faxon came from seven back in 2005, the largest deficit in this tournament's history, but won via a playoff.)

And how about this for Watson: He's won 11 stroke-play PGA Tour events and has come from behind on the final day to win seven of them. Watson made his push, and knew he had a chance once he sunk an up-and-down save on 15. 

"The fist pump on 15, that's when I thought I had a shot at it," Watson said. 

The crowd was behind him, too. He also had a big-time chip-in on 10 to nab birdie, one of five he'd take on the back nine. With inclement weather approaching, Watson aggressively chased pins tight pins and knew that the winds were going to be factor. Prior to his mesmerizing wedge plop on 18, Watson took out the driver and played aggressively off the tee -- even against his inner instinct. 

"If we're going to lose the golf tournament, let's lose it hitting the big dog," Watson said. 

Afterward, an unusual ceremonial scene. Torrential rains blasting eastward through Connecticut held off just enough for the tournament to conclude, but they dumped hard just as the trophy presentation was being held in the media interview room/media tent ... which then begin to pool water and flood. Watson -- after nearly 45 minutes of waiting -- finally took questions from the press inside the media workroom. 

Watson was close to the heart afterward; he was self-aware. A polarizing player whose reputation as a gruff competitor has undeniably cost him in some ways, Watson said a change in his approach in the past year has helped his success this year. He also said some health issues, which included significant weight fluctuation, threw him off track in 2017.

"After last year, who knows what to expect," he said. "It's amazing what good energy and some healthy energy will do."

Watson even said he called his caddie after Saturday and apologized for his poor attitude in the first three days at the Travelers. Old habits can be hard to shake, but the fact he's openly talking about his faults indicates that something is changing with him. He cited fatherhood and his young children growing up also playing a big part. 

Now he's looking like the best golfer in the world in this intriguing golf season. Consider this: Watson won amid a 156-player field that featured 15 other players who'd won at least one major. That kind of competition in a non-major event is a rarity on the PGA Tour. He excelled when the weather was at its stickiest and the competition very much in flux. 

Grade: A

Here are the rest of our grades for the Travelers Championship, which is establishing a reputation as one of the true must-watch non-majors in golf.

Paul Casey (T2): Nightmare finish for Casey, who is playing well as of late, but found himself gagging away what should have been his third PGA Tour victory. In fact, Casey lost this event to Watson in a playoff in 2015. On Sunday, he entered 14 under and holding a four-stroke lead. By the time Watson made his birdie on 18 to take a one-stroke lead, Casey was wrapping up 15, which he parred. 

He then pushed a four and a half footer on 16, missing par and dropping two back on Watson. Casey followed that up by putting his tee shot in the drink off to the right on 17. It was a brutal bend the wrong way for Casey, who waited until holes 70 and 71 of the tournament before logging consecutive bogeys.  Grade: B-

Stewart Cink (T2): No one made up more ground on the final day than the 45-year-old Cink, who went from a tie for 20th to a tie for second. He finished 14 under, in a tie with Beau Hossler, J.B. Holmes and Paul Casey. Cink, like Watson, is a multiple-time winner of the Travelers event, and through the first two hours, he was playing his way toward a potential third title. Cink shot a 29 on the front nine, then took a pair of bogeys on the back before settling with an impressive tournament-low 62. With golf, so much of how you're judged is how you close. Cink was at his best -- and calmest -- Sunday. Grade: A-

Jason Day (T12): A good-not-great tournament for Day (11 under), who was always lingering but never threatening. However, it can't get lost in the aftermath of the Travelers that Day actually almost went full Spieth on the 18th in the final round. No, this wasn't in the sand, and no, this didn't a trophy, but it echoed what Spieth did in 2017. 

Day tied for third in birdies at the Travelers (22 of them) but was held back because he bogeyed 11 holes. He graded sixth in driving distance but 38th in driving accuracy. Day's still doing fine for himself in 2018; in January he won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, and in May he took the Wells Fargo Championship title. Grade: B

Rory McIlroy (T12): McIlroy ended up at 11 under, done in by a few of TPC River Highlands' tricky and skinny holes that have water hazards. His power is made for this course, but he's yet to threaten for a title despite playing the event often. His highlights at this year's tournament came when a squirrel scampered across the first tee box on Saturday, and his 43-foot chip for eagle later in the round. I can say firsthand that the New England locals love them some McIlroy. He commanded galleries as large as anyone else this weekend. Grade: B

Brooks Koepka (T19): Koepka was playing with the deepest pockets of house money imaginable at this event. Coming off his second straight U.S. Open title, the 28-year-old found himself amid a spotlight few were expecting to shine. Koepka's comeback from a wrist injury earlier this year has given proof to his talent and potential. He's now in the top four of the World Golf Rankings, and in Cromwell, he finished 9 under. Strong play after the U.S. Open championship; if Koepka had slouched out and failed to make the cut, no one would have blamed him. Instead, a respectable four-day showing. Grade: B

Jordan Spieth (T42): The 2017 champ, who won this underrated tournament last year in one of the most epic ways imaginable, was irregular and layman-like in his follow-up appearance at the Travelers. Spieth, who finished 4 under, had just 13 birdies in 72 opportunities. That's a strikingly low amount given how well the rest of the field played this year on a course that must have felt pillow-soft after the hectic and hellish nature of Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open the week prior. Spieth's frustration played out on occasion. He ranked 55th in approach shots and 40th around the green, and of course, that will get you every time. It's hard to repeat at the same event. Grade: C

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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