Bubba Watson's game in shape, but he needs to focus

Bubba Watson was happy to get in his first practice round on Monday before the rains came.

Watson's game in shape, but he needs to focus

Bubba Watson says his game's in shape for Royal Lytham, but he admits he’s got "issues." Mostly, says Helen Ross, Watson knows he needs to keep his mind calm and focus on each shot.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Bubba Watson has "issues." At least, that's what he calls the tendency his mind has to wander between shots.

Among those issues this week is being 4,000 miles away from his wife Angie and young son Caleb. And on Tuesday as he plays a practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Watson might find himself thinking about what he wants for dinner or what video game to play when he gets back to the house he's rented a well-struck driver away from the Irish Sea.

On Monday, he was "really calm." Once the Open Championship starts on Thursday, though, Watson, who plays the first two rounds with Lee Westwood and Yoshinori Fujimoto, will need the same kind of focus that enabled him to win the Masters Tournament earlier this year. He'll be the first to tell you that doesn't always come easily, too.

"There's a lot of things going through my head, not just golf, so I've got to calm my mind down and focus on golf and try to get better," Watson said. "When I focus right, I play pretty good, and when I don't focus right, I miss the cut pretty quick."

The latter happened at the U.S. Open, when Watson played with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson during the first two rounds. He shot 78-71 and went home early, but Watson feels like he learned a lot playing with the two veterans, who have 18 majors between them.

"It's only Monday right now, so I'm really calm," Watson said. "I saw the golf course for the first time today, played all 18 holes before the rain came, so yeah, it was good going out there and seeing it in good conditions where we didn't have to worry about the rain so I could focus and look at what I needed to look at. We've got two more days to see the course, full view, to learn it, try to learn it the next couple days. ...

"I learned a lot at the U.S. Open watching Tiger, watching Phil, learning about strategy. You know, the game is a tough game so you've just got to learn and process this information and move on. I missed the cut there, but I feel good. I finished second the week after the U.S. Open (at the Travelers Championship).

"My game feels where it needs to be, but it's all about executing the right shots at the right time and hitting them in the right place."

After playing his first practice round at Royal Lytham on Monday, Watson -- who also prepped with rounds at Royal Birkdale and St. Annes over the weekend -- knows playing smart will be more important than trying to overpower the course. The seaside layout features extremely thick rough, placing a premium on accuracy, and there are in excess of 200 bunkers to add even more challenge.

"You've got to hit fairways around here so you can control your next shot, your shot into greens, because it's so demanding around with all these pot bunkers around the green, so you've got to try to execute and miss the greens on the right side," Watson explained. "So it's something I'm going to have to really work on, different mindset, different game plan. 

"I mean, it's something that you just learn over time. It's not going to happen. You're not going to be the best at links the first time you come to links.  You've got to learn that skill over the years, and hopefully I start learning it pretty quick."

Watson's record at the Open Championship isn't stellar with two missed cuts and a tie for 30th last year. But the American finds links golf to be fun and he has the creativity to conquer the barren terrain -- remember that shot he curved out of the trees on the second playoff hole at Augusta National? The rain and wind that's expected Thursday and Sunday will only add to the test.

"What I like about the game of golf more than the other sports is that the other sports are a set field," Watson said. "Basketball is a set height of goal, there's no wind. There's always challenges in golf. There's all kinds of challenges. There's rain, there's not rain. And so for me, certain golf courses, certain tests that we have throughout the year are going to change your strategy. They're going to change the way you play the game.

"You go to a U.S. Open, you go to tough weather conditions of the British Open -- it's going to be par is your friend. You make a lot of pars, you're probably going to do well. So there's a lot of challenges like that, and there's some golf courses, some tournaments where 30 under wins it. So you've just got to play for birdie after birdie after birdie.

"You have to just go with what the golf course is giving you, unlike other sports where it's always the same. So you always have to change your strategy no matter what it is."

As long as he can stay focused on the task at hand.