Bubba and friends battle the head game at Hope

When it comes to winning your first tournament on the PGA Tour, it really isn’t about birdies and bogeys. It's way more about what is bouncing around in that skull of yours. Don’t believe me?

Just ask Bubba Watson, the areyoukiddingme long lefty who, in two previous tries to breakout and win, failed to break 70 in the final round. Bubba's fantastic chip shot on the 16th hole of the PGA West Nicklaus Course on Sunday set up a tap-in birdie to move to 25-under, well ahead of those no-name youngsters trying to steal the Bob Hope from Watson.

That was the story up until the 18th hole, Watson’s 72nd of the week. Bubba was two clear of the field, but that stupid thing between your ears normally has more to do with your golf swing than the big muscles on your side, and this was one of them. A double-bogey finish dropped Bubba, who had only made three bogeys the entire week to that point, has Watson tied for the lead with Alex Prugh (who, incidentally, has a last name that rhymes with “Who”) and a shot clear of Bill Haas.

The big question heading into Monday is just that ... can these guys that have never been there keep it together mentally to finish this marathon of a golf tournament off?

Watson seemed shaky with it on Saturday, not to mention his finish late Sunday afternoon. His 68 in the third round was admittedly nerve-wracking; as he said afterward, “My caddie kept yelling at me, trying to get me to pay attention and stay focused. I just hung in there."

The interesting thing about the Hope is that you can’t sit around and be content. Of the top 16 golfers on Sunday, only three shot in the 70s, and if you're going to win this thing, you have to keep the foot on the gas, make a ton of birdies and hope your 20- (or sometimes 30-) under score will be lower than the rest.

The exciting thing for golf fans is Monday will give everyone a chance to see some fresh talent try to score a trophy. The early-season tournaments don’t normally draw the huge names, but if they can give us some entertaining fresh faces that can play (and trust me, Prugh and Haas can play), it sure does make waiting for the big names to come out of hibernation more bearable.

It was Bubba’s tournament to win after a second-round 62, and if he wants to make that happen in a day, he’s going to have to shake off the double-bogey he closed with and realize he’s exactly where he needs to be. The long drives might be fun, but for Watson and the rest, the brain is going to have to be there for 18 more holes.

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