CROMWELL, Conn. (TNS) — Maybe it was a late attempt at self-motivation. Maybe it was blind luck. Maybe it was the intuition of someone who had won the Travelers Championship two times prior to Sunday.
It could have been a number of things, but whatever it was, Bubba Watson knew.
When he sank an 11-foot putt for birdie on the 15th hole, and moved to 16-under to tie Paul Casey for the lead, he pumped his fist. He claimed, at that moment, he believed he could pull off the win.
He knew he was playing well. He'd birdied three holes on the back nine prior to the 15th. What he didn't know is that as he picked his ball from the hole, Casey, the man that Watson and the rest of the field had been chasing since the morning, had sailed his tee shot well past the green on 16, and was unable to get up and down, leading to a bogey.
For the first time since Friday afternoon, a different name than Casey was perched atop the leaderboard. It was Bubba.
Watson birdied the 18th hole to jump to 17-under, the winning score in his third Travelers triumph. Watson's four-day total of 263 was three shots better than Stewart Cink, Beau Hossler, J.B. Holmes and Casey, who wound up with a bogey on 17 to drop into that four-way tie for second at 14-under-par 266.
Casey couldn't capitalize on his four-shot lead after Saturday. Cink, Holmes and Hossler couldn't rally quite enough.
For the second time in his Travelers career, Watson came back from being six shots behind to win his third trophy at TPC River Highlands.
"You don't think about winning, you just think about playing good golf," Watson said. "You're trying to somehow do those kind of heroics because you're so far back. I was never thinking about victory. I was just thinking about playing golf."
Sunday marked Watson's third Travelers Championship win — the previous two coming in 2010 and 2015. It was his 12th win on the PGA Tour. He's the tour's first three-time winner this year, and he's won a total of $3,492,000 in his three wins at Cromwell.
He had the championship pedigree, but after Thursday's round, Watson was just concerned with making the cut. He shot an even par 70, which would not have held up against the 2 under cut line.
He saved himself with a 7-under 63 on Friday. Then came a 3-under 67 on Saturday to keep him in contention. Then, on Sunday, it just came down to, as Watson put it, playing good golf.
Watson felt confident after the 15th hole due to the fact that a weather warning was issued. The forecast all day called for rain, and late-afternoon thunderstorms. Watson knew that with the poor conditions, it would be difficult for his opposition to go low.
"I knew how difficult these holes were going to be, especially when it gets around the water, just because it was going to be windier." Watson said. "So I knew if I could just make a birdie somehow, then I had a good shot at it or a chance to get in the playoff. So that didn't change the strategy any. Just my mindset gave me a little bit of confidence or more of a boost, I guess you'd say."
His birdie on 15 may have been when he believed he had a chance to win, but his shot on the 18th hole had to have sealed the deal in his mind. He crushed his tee shot 336 yards, then drove home a perfect shot from 77 yards out which landed two feet from the pin, which he converted for birdie.
"I think it was 71 yards, straight downwind," Watson said. "It was one of those where it could have easily went short in the bunker or went over the green just because you guessed wrong how it was going to come out."
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Casey, who said after his second round on Saturday that he'd need to stretch his lead to at least 20 under if he'd want a chance to win. He was right, 20 under would have won the tournament.
But instead of shooting 4 under to get to that mark, he shot a 2-over 72, and birdied just once — the first hole of his day.
"Didn't have my swing all day and fought it, and battled as hard as I could," Casey said. "But to only make one birdie all day is not good enough. It was highlighted with fighting the swing and pull 8-iron on 16, and then the flair right with the rescue on 17 just about summed up how I felt about my golf swing. All credit to Bubba, 63 is a great round of golf, in what I felt were very tricky conditions."
It was Casey's eight career second-place finish on tour. It was the second time that Casey had fallen to Watson in Cromwell. The first came in 2015, when Watson won his second Travelers Championship in a playoff over Casey.
"It's more me. I didn't get it taken care of today," Casey said. "Credit to his great play. I would have loved to (win) outright or at least have another go at him in a playoff would have been nice. But not to be."
J.B Holmes' late comeback attempt was slowed down by bogeys on the 14th and 18th holes. He fell into a four-way tie for second place at 14 under.
He said that with his own struggles, he didn't pay attention to what was happening around him.
"I actually didn't look at the scoreboard all day," he said. "I didn't really know. I was just trying to do the best I could. I knew in the last I had to hole out that wedge, and I just hit a bad shot and got a squirrely lie over there. I hit a decent chip and hit my putt where I was looking, but missed it. It's the way it goes. I made a lot of putts this week, played well, and it was a good week."