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Bubba Watson inspired for his return to Shriners Open in Las Vegas

Bubba Watson was so frustrated with his game that he shut down his schedule in August and listed only two goals for the next four months.

— Get away from golf.

— Be a stay-at-home dad for his daughter Dakota and son Caleb.

His wife, Angie, needed him, too. She was having knee surgery that included 32 staples and would be sidelined indefinitely, leaving her husband with his hands full of household duties and plenty of downtime to recharge for 2018.

Bubba, though, bores easily.

“Off the course, you couldn’t ask for better,” Watson said Tuesday during his press conference at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “My son is loving school. I’ve been volunteering and it’s been so much fun going there and seeing a smile on his face and being a dad and a coach. My little girl, she’s doing good in preschool. It’s been a blast.

“But my wife saw I wanted to get back. I was eager to get back.”

Watson wasn’t planning to rejoin the PGA Tour until early February in Phoenix. His practice work already was beginning to yield results when the shootings at the Route 91 Harvest festival occurred.

Watson didn’t immediately decide to cut short his hiatus and enter the Shriners tournament, but what happened Oct. 1 in Vegas inspired him in a sense.

“(Angie) had her surgery, and we stayed in the hospital for a couple days and kept talking away from the kids, and she said, ‘You want to go play, don’t you?’ I said, yeah, I really do.

“She said, ‘Vegas is a great place. Why don’t you go there and support it?’”

So the lanky left-hander packed up his pink driver and headed to TPC Summerlin. On Monday, Watson saw comedian and impressionist Terry Fator’s show at The Mirage. Thursday, he tees off at 12:35 p.m. with Jimmy Walker and Graeme McDowell as he looks to salvage a season that he’s the first to admit didn’t come close to reaching his standards.

“She gave me a free pass,” Watson said. “But it just made sense when we started talking about it and being here and supporting this beautiful place, this fun place to be.”

Watson will celebrate a birthday here, too, when he turns 39 on Sunday. He last played the Shriners Open in 2007 and finished tied for 14th. The year before he tied for 44th, so there’s precedent for him making the cut and a paycheck on a course where the par-5 holes are easy birdie opportunities for big hitters like him.

Watson owns nine career PGA Tour titles, including two Masters green jackets, but his slump has dropped him to 63rd in the world golf rankings. His last victory came in early 2016 at the Northern Trust Open.

Yet his decision to play the Shriners Open certainly raised the profile of a tournament that has struggled to attract a star-studded field mostly because of its late date on the tour’s schedule.

“The timing of the event is tough. A lot of guys are taking some time off right now,” said A.J. McInerney, a former UNLV golfer who was among the concertgoers who survived the shooting. He’s playing his first PGA Tour event after officials reached out and gave him a sponsor’s exemption into his hometown tournament.

“But I know that Bubba’s here. He wanted to be here to support the tournament, support Las Vegas. I think that’s really cool.”

Contact Tom Spousta at tspousta@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5205. Follow @TheRealTSpou on Twitter.

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