OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) _ This was one time Bubba Watson, the longest hitter on the PGA Tour, should have kept his distance.
The former University of Georgia player, a consistent Top 10 finisher but never a winner since a 2004 Hooters Tour event, led by one stroke at the U.S. Open on Saturday when he confronted the kind of shot that can lose a championship. Or, in his case, cause a temper to be lost.
Watson couldn't get the ball out from the thick rough on the left edge on the 477-yard, par-4 ninth and his pitch shot traveled only a few feet in the scruffy rough.
The pin remained a few dozen tempting feet away, so instead of calming down and preparing himself for another difficult pitch, he rushed up to the ball and hit a pop fly that carried across the green _ leaving him more than twice as far from the flag as he was to start with. Watson needed three to get down, giving him a triple bogey 7 on a hole he figured to bogey at worse.
``It was the same shot, it was just five feet closer to the green,'' Watson said, denying he didn't take enough time. ``I knew exactly what I had _ a tough shot _ and it wasn't that I was impatient or anything, I went from tough to tougher, I guess. ... If you've had a hard shot before, it doesn't matter if you take your time or not.''
The blowup caused Watson to go from one up to two down and, given the 28-year-old's relative inexperience, could have caused his round to fall apart. It didn't. He steadied and had only one bogey on the back nine of his 4-over 74, which left him three behind leader Aaron Baddeley.
``It showed that I can do it,'' Watson said. ``I hung in there. I've got 18 holes, and if I play some of the best golf I've ever played, I could be walking home with the trophy.''
By merely being in contention, one of the most chromatic PGA Tour players has written an intriguing Sunday story line.
Watson doesn't have a swing coach, therapist, masseuse or sports psychologist. He learned the game mostly from a father who shoots in the 80s. Bubba is left-handed and father Gerry is right-handed, so Dad used a mirror to demonstrate technique.
Despite never winning on the developmental Nationwide Tour, Watson is making a steady living on the PGA Tour with finishes of second, fourth, fifth and eighth this season and is 33rd on the money list.
He's an acknowledged good ol' boy, too, growing up in tiny Bagdad, Fla., population 1,490, near the Alabama border. He went to the same high school as Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum, and the USGA paired Watson and Weekley for the first two rounds at Oakmont.
Watson also adds color to a sport where personalities aren't always appreciated. He wears his BW initials on his belt buckle and averages 316 yards off the tee _ almost eight yards longer than anyone on tour _ using a driver with a pink shaft.
His reaction to those who make fun of his driver? Take yours and see if you can outdrive him.
Watson's personality and persistence gained Tiger Woods' attention, and the two sometimes share those 7 a.m. practice rounds that Woods prefers. Watson dares Woods to try to outdrive him but also picks the brain of golf's biggest star for tips.
``He's been nothing but nice to me. I don't know why,'' Watson said. ``Who knows why? Maybe he feels sorry for me.''
Woods enjoys Watson's company and appreciates his ability, saying, ``He's got so much talent and if he would just understand how to play strategically ... ``
Woods also constantly reminds him to be patient. For one hole Saturday, he probably didn't.
``One bad swing, that's all it takes,'' Watson said. ``I swung as good as I can hit the ball, that's how good I hit it today. But I still had that one triple that derailed me a little bit.''