Bubba Watson full of admiration for Rory McIlroy's 'big win' in Dubai

American returns for Saudi International after eight months out with injury

Bubba Watson, right, speaks to Harold Varner III during a practice round prior to the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Al Murooj, Saudi Arabia, on January 31, 2023. Getty
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Bubba Watson was so moved by Rory McIlroy’s sensational Hero Dubai Desert Classic triumph on Monday, he immediately shot a message to the world No 1.

The two-time Masters champion is yet to receive a reply from the Northern Irishman, but Watson says he has a pretty good idea for the delay.

“He’s probably partying a little bit longer. That was a big win,” said Watson as he prepares to make a comeback in the $5 million Saudi International, the season-opening event on the Asian Tour, after nearly eight months away from competitive golf because of a torn meniscus in his knee.

“I mean, any win is big, but you know, with all that heated stuff going on, it’s a big one for him. I didn’t see it because I was coming here, but I know that there was a real battle coming down the stretch. I texted McIlroy after the win. I just said, ‘Man, great putt on the last hole’.”

McIlroy has led the PGA Tour from the front in its battle against LIV Golf, where Watson is one of the contracted players. During the Dubai Desert Classic, there was a much-publicised showdown between McIlroy and Patrick Reed, who eventually finished one-two when the weather-delayed event finished on Monday.

The world No 1 needed to make a nerve-racking birdie putt from 15 feet on the 18th to beat his American and LIV Golf rival by one shot.

Watson, who is the captain of Niblicks on LIV Golf, was equally impressed by Reed, who is part of Dustin Johnson’s 4Aces team.

“Gosh, every time there’s some heat around Patrick’s name, he just seems to get better at golf. Maybe, he should have been on my team. I would have kept him fired up all the time. But now that he is not, I’m going to be nice to him. He’s such a grinder. That’s his whole mentality,” the 44-year-old southpaw added.

As for the now famous ‘teegate’ controversy involving the two players in Dubai, Watson defended Reed, before adding he understood why McIlroy was trying to avoid any conversation.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, I don't believe that Patrick threw a tee at McIlroy. I’ve thrown tees at people before just for fun,” said the man from Bagdad, California.

“I don’t look at media, so I didn’t know that there was a subpoena given to McIlroy on Christmas Eve. So yes, I 100 per cent agree with him that if you give me a subpoena, I’m probably not going to talk to you either. A subpoena is like you’re saying I did something. And I don’t believe Rory has done anything wrong in his career or his life.

“And maybe, Patrick was just trying to say, ‘Hey, I'm sorry’. Who knows? I don’t think he was being mean. I’m still going to be friends with both of them, until he gives me a subpoena, that is.”

Watson will be at the Masters this year, after Augusta National announced it would let all players who have qualified, participate in this year’s tournament.

McIlroy is one major short of winning a career Grand Slam. The tournament that has been evading him is the Masters, and Watson would love him to get into a Green Jacket.

“I hope so. He’s such a great person for the game. He’s one away from the Grand Slam, and just the Masters and if it happens this year, it would be great,” added Watson.

“But if it’s me and him coming down the stretch, I hope he has to wait one more year!”

Updated: January 31, 2023, 3:31 PM