Don't write Tiger off: Watson

Don't write Tiger off: Watson
Bubba Watson of the USA, Masters Champion in 2012 and 2014.

Tiger Woods is out of golf's top 100 for the first time since 1996.

The 39-year-old American has been struggling with a slew of injuries in recent years, the most recent being the back pain that caused him to pull out of Torrey Pines in February. After that brief layoff, 49 per cent of 103 professionals polled by ESPN said a 15th Major is beyond him.

But do not count Bubba Watson, who is back at Augusta National this week to defend the Masters, among them.

In a conference call with Asian media yesterday, Watson said: "I'd say Tiger can win at any moment. He's won (more than) 80 times around the world, he's won 14 Majors, there's a great chance he can easily win this week.

"The rankings mean nothing. Everybody knows how good Tiger is... you don't have to look at the world rankings to know that.

"I consider him the best player of my generation, and, at the worst, the second-best player of all time (behind Jack Nicklaus)."

While the focus this week is on Woods' comeback and on 25-year-old Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy potentially completing a career Grand Slam, Watson, who clinched his first Green Jacket in 2012, is on course to make history himself.

The world No. 3 could become only the second golfer after Nicklaus to win three Masters in four years and the fourth player to retain the title.

Not that being out of the limelight bothers the Florida native, who is part of the Golf Boys, a boyband he formed with fellow pros Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.

He said: "It doesn't matter what the storylines are... I'm here trying to win a golf tournament.

"I'm confident, I'm excited, I've had a month off. But I'm looking forward to it."

Beyond the Masters, he is also looking forward to his trip to China, where he will headline the inaugural Shenzhen International, to be held from April 16-19.

While he wants to win the US$2.5 million ($3.39 million) event, he also sees his trip to Asia as part-mission, where he hopes to popularise the game in the world's most populous nation.

Said Watson: "China seems like the best place to help grow (golf). So many people live in China, (there are) so many young talents coming out of China... and if you can help grow the game more, why not?"

Indeed, with the game's rising popularity in China, and the likes of McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, 21, and Patrick Reed, 24, leading the next wave of golfers, Watson is certain the sport can cope with the inevitable departure of Woods.

He said: "Tiger is going to get old. When he's 60, he's not going to perform like how he's doing (now)... but we have some good guys holding the court down."

The basketball fan, an Orlando Magic season-ticket holder, added: "Michael Jordan (retired) but Kobe Bryant came in. Then you have Kevin Durant, LeBron James... (similarly) there's always going to be the next guy (in golf)."

This article was first published on April 8, 2015.
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