Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Watson having fun at PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - While other players waited out the fog delay on the driving range or putting green, Bubba Watson played games on his phone and threw things at Rickie Fowler while his good friend was trying to sleep.

There are, Watson knows all too well, more important things to get worked up about than a round of golf.

Even at a major championship.

The fun-loving Watson earned a share of the early lead at the PGA Championship yesterday, shooting a 4-under 68.

He shares the lead with Francesco Molinari, who also opened with a

4-under 68. Ernie Els, Matt Kuchar, and Nick Watney were also at 4 under when it became too dark for them to finish the first round.

Tiger Woods, who made three birdies inside 12 feet on the opening four holes, had to birdie his final hole just to break par, a 1-under 71. That used to be considered an ordinary start in a major. Considering his recent woes, this was nearly cause for celebration.

"To shoot something under par, that was the goal today," Woods said.

He joined 21 others among the 78 early starters who completed the first round, which was delayed by more than three hours because of fog.

But the story of the day was Watson, who choked up after his round while talking about the difficult year his family has endured, with his father battling cancer and his wife having a scare of her own.

"It's kind of emotional now," Watson said, stopping several times to compose himself. "The first doctor told us the wrong diagnosis, but we didn't know that at the time, so it was scary. Why do I want to go hit a golf ball around? So that's where the emotions come from."

It wasn't all that long ago that Watson had a different outlook on life. A fan favorite for his booming tee shots and pink-shafted driver (his favorite colors are pink and lime green), he missed five straight cuts last summer, starting at the British Open. Usually good-natured, he found himself getting angry every time he stepped on the course.

Finally, his longtime caddie - and good friend - Ted Scott pulled him aside. Watson needed to take time off, quit, anything to change his attitude.

If not, Scott said, Watson could find a new caddie.

"There's nothing outside the ropes that bothers me. But inside the ropes, I was letting everything bother me," Watson said. "When he sat there as a good friend of mine and told me that he was going to quit because of my attitude, you've got to change it."

Instead of getting worked up about his game, Watson is having fun with it.

The week he won in Hartford, Conn., he and wife Angie passed a billboard advertising a water park and talked about how much fun it would be to go there. But what professional athlete blows off practice to play at a water park?

Watson did. A few days later, he'd won his first tournament.

"The win just showed me that we're onto something, the right thing. Let's have fun with our lives and let's have fun with golf," Watson said.

The fog delay meant none of the late starters could finish the opening round.

Els, desperate to make sure another year doesn't end without a major, played bogey-free through 14 holes and was at 4 under, making a seven-foot par save on the 14th shortly before the horn sounded. Also at 4 under were Kuchar and Watney, courtesy of eagles - Kuchar on the 13th early in his round by holing from the fairway, Watney on the par-5 11th, his last hole of the day.

Phil Mickelson, closer than ever to going to No. 1 in the world, ended a wild day at 1 under. He knocked it close for a couple of birdies and spent the rest of the time in the bunkers and rough as he scrambled to save par. He finished on a strong note with back-to-back birdies, the last one a wedge that stopped two feet away on the 11th.

In a summer of majors at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, it only figures that a fog delay of just over three hours would be in Wisconsin.

"I had never gotten up at 5:30 for a 12 o'clock tee time," said Charles Howell, who shot a 69.

The group at 69 also included Ryan Moore, the only player among the early starters to reach 5 under until dropping two shots over his last three holes into the wind. Jason Day of Australia bogeyed his last hole for a 69.

With so much rain on Wednesday and in the week before the PGA, the course that looks like a links played more like a PGA Tour course with soft conditions. It was suited perfectly for Watson, one of the biggest hitters in golf.

Of all his birdies, none showed off his power quite like 587-yard fifth hole, the first one on the back nine with the wind at this back. Ignoring the bunkers and water to the right, Watson hammered his drive so far - 445 yards by his calculations - that he had only a lob wedge for his second shot and an easy two-putt birdie.

"It makes it a little easier, I guess, when you do that," Watson said.

Watson had nine one-putt greens, which works at any tournament.

Molinari went about his work differently, relying on accuracy. He missed only four fairways and two greens, dropped only one shot along the way and worked his way into a share of the early lead with a birdie on the par-3 seventh, among the scariest of the par 3s that hug the shoreline.

Coming off two majors won by players who had never done it before, Molinari has reason to believe he could be next.

"Tiger is going to get back to his standards, and Phil is going to win more majors," he said, "and so you just need to play really well and try to grab the occasion when you have it."

The late starters will finish the first round this morning and immediately start the second round. For Woods, Watson, Molinari, and the rest of the players in their side of the draw, they will face a late start and likely won't finish today.

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