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Watson rallies from six shots back to win Travelers Championship for third time

Bubba Watson got his first professional win here in 2010 in a playoff. He won the tournament again in 2015, beating Paul Casey in a two-hole playoff.

On Sunday, Watson erased a six-shot deficit and had birdies on five of the final nine holes for a final round 63 to win his third Travelers Championship at the Tournament Players Club at River Highlands in Cromwell.

Casey had a four-shot lead after three rounds but he faded with a 72. Watson won by three strokes over Casey, Stewart Cink, who had a spectacular final round with an eight-under-par 62, Beau Hossler and J.B. Holmes.

The Travelers holds a special place in Watson’s heart and he wasn’t afraid to show it afterwards.

Watson, 39, won his 12th PGA Tournament and praised the Travelers Championship team several times for an outstanding experience. “You can’t beat this one. If you’re not a major, it’s hard to beat this (tournament),” he said. “You create an atmosphere that players want to be here, families want to be here.”

Watson mentioned a wiffle ball game and four-hole tournament for the caddies on Friday afternoon. He was trailing the leaders by 10 shots at that point but ended by caddying for his caddy anyways.

“It was fun,” Watson said. “What you all create around here is amazing. This is a special place in my heart because of my first (PGA) win (in 2010) with my dad getting to see my win before he passed away. And like you were joking a couple years later, having my son, and now having both kids here part of our family for the third (championship). It’s pretty amazing how it keeps growing.”

Watson kept the pressure on Casey from the beginning.

“I wasn’t thinking about winning. I was thinking about just playing golf and trying to move up the leaderboard,” Watson said. “(I was) just trying to have a good round and have a good finish.

“Then on the back nine,  I chipped in on 10. I made a putt on 12. Made a good putt on 13, par putt on 14. Then, when I made the putt on 15 is when I realized I had a shot at it,” he said. “With the weather signs going up, I could see the weather was going to come in. The wind started picking up, knew it was going to be hard to make birdies. So I figured if there was a way I could get one more, and that’s really what I do.

“I just hung on and had one on 18 to jump out there to a one-shot lead and made it tough on (Casey) to finish or the other guys to finish as well,” Watson said.

Casey struggled all afternoon. “I fought my golf swing all day,” he said. “So you can see coming down the last couple of holes, hitting the pull 8-iron on 16, and the flair right on 17 just about summed it up. Yeah, (it was) incredibly frustrating.

“It was always going to be a difficult day because of the different wind direction, I thought for, someone to go particularly low,” he said. “And you’ve got to give credit to Bubba (with a) 63. Is that right? That was a great score.”

Next year’s U.S. Open will be on the West Coast and the Travelers will be the following week. But Watson will here.

“I think I’m the first one to sign up every year,” he said. “As soon as they put the schedule up, I sign up for this one because I want to come back here. This means so much, not just from the golf side of it, but from the family side of it. My dad, the only time he got to see me win, he got to see me qualify for the Ryder Cup through this event.

“So all these things mean so much to my family, not only the family that’s here, but the family that’s back home. So it’s a big deal for us to be a part of this and to still be somewhat of a name that has a chance to win is a big deal for me, and I love coming here.”

And the warmth of the tournament and how it benefits the Connecticut community isn’t lost on Watson, either.

“When you see (Travelers) own workers are volunteering for the tournament and what it means to this town and what it means to Hole In The Wall Gang (a summer camp started by the late Paul Newman in Ashford for seriously ill children), $1.8 million. I mean, you can see that.”

The Travelers Championship announced on Sunday that $1.8 million was generated from the 2018 tournament. That money will be distributed to approximately 130 charities, including The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the tournament’s primary beneficiary.

“People hear that, people see that they have a director like Nathan (Grube). They get behind it, and when they hear that, see that, feel that, that’s when they start showing up,” Watson said. “Then they see how perfect the golf course is and how the new clubhouse, people are energized by that, and that’s what people see.”

With the win, Watson becomes just the second golfer in the tournament’s history win three times. Only Billy Casper has more with four victories in 1963, 1965, 1968 and 1973.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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