Two weeks after Watson made a pair of late bogeys in the Phoenix Open, he delivered the best closing round at Riviera in some three decades. Watson played the final 39 holes without a bogey and shot a 7-under 64 on Sunday to win the Northern Trust Open.
It was his first victory in 22 months and 41 tournaments worldwide dating to the 2012 Masters.
Watson wound up with a two-shot victory over Dustin Johnson, who closed with a 66 for the second straight week and got the same result.
This wasn't Bubba golf as much as it was simply great golf.
Watson, who also shot 64 on Saturday to start the final round four shots behind William McGirt, made up ground so quickly that he broke out of a four-way tie for the lead with a birdie on the eighth hole and made the turn in 30.
Equally critical were a pair of par saves with 7-foot putts on the 12th and 13th holes.
Johnson, who was second at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week after a final-round 66, made birdie on the 15th hole to get within one shot. He didn't give himself good birdie chances on the last three holes.
Watson made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to cap off the best closing round in this tournament since Doug Tewell shot a 63 in 1986. Even sweeter was going up the steps toward the famous clubhouse to see his 2-year-old son, Caleb, whom Watson adopted just before his Masters victory.
Watson finished at 15-under 269, and he wasn't the only big winner.
Jason Allred, who went to college up the coast at Pepperdine, played bogey-free for a 68 and tied for third with Brian Harman, who also had a 68. Allred was a Monday qualifier, and this was his first regular PGA Tour event since he last had his card in 2008.
The tie for third was a career-best for the 33-year-old Allred. He earned $388,600, which is more than he had made in his entire career, which included two full seasons on the PGA Tour. He now is exempt into the Honda Classic, which starts in two weeks - about the time his wife is due with their third child.
"We'll have fun figuring out what that looks like," Allred said.
Watson won for the fifth time in his career, and he had to earn it. With no margin for error over the closing holes, he managed to get out of a deep fairway bunker on the 15th hole to the front edge of the green. He smartly played to the middle of the green on the par-3 16th hole for a par. Facing the uphill tee shot on the 18th, he blasted his drive down the middle of the fairway and hit wedge into 15 feet to the right of the pin.
And when it was over, he felt a lot better than he did two weeks ago in Phoenix, where he missed a short par putt on the last hole to lose by one to Kevin Stadler.
Johnson, meanwhile, now has finished among the top six in all four tournaments this season -- including a win in Shanghai and consecutive runner-up finishes. His other start was at Kapalua, where he tied for sixth.
"I had a chance there on the back nine, I just didn't have good looks on 16, 17 and 18 to give myself a chance," Johnson said. "I was still right there. That's all you can ask for."
McGirt, who had a two-shot lead to start the final round as he tried to win for the first time, opened with a birdie and stalled after that. And on yet another gorgeous day at Riviera, this was not a day to stall.
The pack behind took aim and made birdies, particularly Watson.
Watson hit a perfect tee shot on the par-3 fourth that rode the slope to 15 feet for birdie. He holed a bunker shot from left of the sixth green for birdie. And a 15-footer on the eighth gave Watson his fifth birdie of the round, and the outright lead.
That allowed him to break out of a four-way lie among McGirt, Schwartzel and Harman, who made three straight birdies in the middle of the front nine. So many others were positioned just one shot behind, including Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Allred.
The tournament was decided by birdies -- and not making bogeys.
The pivotal stretch came on the back nine. The 12th through the 16th were the five toughest holes at Riviera in the final round. Johnson got through them in 1 under, despite hitting only one green. Watson made a pair of 7-foot par saves on the 12th and 13th holes, and he made a 4-foot par putt on the 14th.