Yet, the long-hitting lefty has tamed the Blue Monster through three rounds.
With an eagle-birdie start Saturday, Watson posted 5-under-par 67 to expand his lead to three shots at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
After opening with rounds of 70-62, Watson stands at 17-under entering today.
“Obviously, I’m learning how to play it,” Watson said of the TPC Blue Monster at Doral. “The golf course is very difficult and the grass is … it’s hard to play out of this rough.”
Reigning PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley shot 66 and is tied for second with Justin Rose (69). World No. 1 Rory McIlroy (65) is tied for eighth at 9-under with a group of six golfers, including Tiger Woods (68). Augusta native Charles Howell (71) is another shot back.
Watson finished 72nd in the 80-player field in 2009, the last time he played in this event. This time, he’s overpowering the course, averaging a field-best 314 yards off the tee.
At the par-5 first hole, the former University of Georgia golfer blasted a 342-yard drive and then hit his approach to six feet for eagle. At No. 2, he smoked his drive 361 yards, flipping a wedge to four feet for an easy birdie.
“When he’s driving it way down there, he’s pitching it typically inside six feet,” said Rose, Watson’s playing partner. “That’s where his advantage is right now. His wedge game is great and he’s getting the ball in the fairway for the most part, too, where he has control over the ball.”
Watson started the year with five consecutive top-20s, including a tie for fifth at the Phoenix Open. He is seeking his first win since winning the Zurich Classic in May in New Orleans.
Watson began the day up one over Rose. The two were tied after Rose birdied Nos. 10 and 11. Watson then birdied two of the next three holes, while Rose stumbled down the stretch.
At No. 16, Watson skulled his fairway bunker shot from 103 yards out, but he caught a break. The ball hit a tower, which prevented it from finding water. Watson escaped with bogey and closed with three pars.
Bradley extended his stretch of bogey-free golf to 36 holes. He birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine and parred out to put himself in today’s final pairing.
Bradley has posted six top-20 finishes in seven events this year, including a playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open.