Bubba Watson Lets it Fly for Record-Tying Friday 63 at PGA Championship
It didn’t take long for caddie Gabe Sauer to realize he was going to see something special on Friday in the 104th PGA Championship. His player, Bubba Watson, stepped up to the tee with a driver at the short 10th – an aggressive play – and let it rip, his tee ball ending up 309 yards down the fairway. It would be like that all day long.
“We unleashed the beast,” Sauer said.
Watson hit driver all Friday long, missed only one fairway, rolled in a few lengthy putts and the result was a 7-under 63 that tied the competitive course record at Southern Hills. Watson started the day thinking about the cut, and ended it in fourth place. At 5-under 135, he is four shots behind leader Will Zalatoris and very much in contention headed into the weekend.
“Obviously, if I'm hitting irons everywhere, it would be boring golf, and then I wouldn't really get into the round,” said Watson, the two-time Masters champion. “So, being able to hit driver gets me into the round, gets me full swings and things.”
Watson gained 3.82 strokes on the field off the tee on Friday, and with the wind lying down in the afternoon, he saw green light on pretty much everything. He knew he hadn’t missed a fairway early on his second nine, and joked to Sauer that he’d better miss one soon, because he didn’t want the pressure of hitting the last few to keep things perfect. He pulled his tee shot right at the par-5, where, into the wind, he figured he couldn’t get home in two anyway. He laid up with a 5-iron and wedged to 10 feet for his seventh birdie of the day. He would get two more coming in, on holes 15 and 17, both times hitting lob wedge into the green. It was that kind of day.
Watson had been playing the same model shaft in his driver since 2002, but recently moved to a lighter shaft in his driver (90 degrees to 60 degrees) and has really enjoyed the results. His driving was so good he left short clubs into greens all day. Not counting his up-and-downs at the two par 5s (5 and 13), Watson used lob wedge to set up birdies on four holes. The "longest" club he hit on one of his birdie holes was a 9-iron from 178 yards at the par-3 11th.
“So swinging a lighter shaft, lighter driver, I'd say I picked up 5 mph clubhead speed maybe, ball speed, all that stuff,” Watson said. (His caddie said Watson's ball speed with the driver on Friday morning on the practice tee was 180 mph.) “That's what everybody tells me. I don't know what that means. So yeah, it's just helped me out, and I think it's helped me stretch out a little bit more, get looser with my shoulders, get my shoulders stretched out a little bit more so I can hit shots again.”
Watson is 43 and captured the 2012 and 2014 Masters. This is his 16th PGA Championship, and in 49 previous rounds, he never had shot better than 68. His best finish at the PGA came in 2010 when he lost in a playoff to Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straits.
Branden Grace owns the lowest major score in history, shooting 62 in the third round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 2017. Watson is the 18th player to shoot 63 at a major, the first at a PGA since Brooks Koepka (2019) at Bethpage Black.