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Late birdies help Watson win Northern Trust Open

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Bubba Watson regained the lead with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes Sunday, shot a 3-under-par 68 and won the Northern Trust Open for the second time in two years.

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - Bubba Watson regained the lead with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes Sunday, shot a 3-under-par 68 and won the Northern Trust Open for the second time in two years.

Watson’s 15-under-par total of 269 at Riviera Country Club was one shot ahead of the 270 of both Australia’s Adam Scott, who had an erratic 67 that included an eagle and double bogey, and Jason Kokrak, who closed with a 68.

Dustin Johnson was fourth after shooting a 69 for 271, while 45-year-old South Korea’s K.J. Choi (31-38-69) and Australia’s Marc Leishman (34-35-69) tied for fifth at 272.

Rory McIlroy, playing in a PGA Tour event the first time this year, began with an eagle 3 on the par-5 first hole and then, making seven bogeys and only one birdie, completed a 4-over 75 for a total of 6-under 278. He tied for 20th place.

When he sank the putt on No. 18 to conclude his tough day, McIlroy shrugged and smiled, as if to say, “Crazy game.”

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It was a great week for Watson, 36,. His son Caleb learned how to play the drums from Justin Bieber after a concert rehearsal. Then Bubba taped a cameo for the television show “Boy Meets World.” On Saturday night, Watson went to the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State Warriors NBA game at Staples Center as a guest of billionaire Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Finally, on another Chamber of Commerce-type Southern California day, blue sky, temperature chasing 70 degrees, he picked up the Northern Trust title and the winner’s check of $1.26 million.

Although he was the 54-hole leader by two shots, Watson was overtaken for a while by Scott, then Kokrak, then Choi. However, the others stumbled, and Watson finished in a flourish.

Two years ago when he won, Watson closed with 64-64. He was confident of a strong last round this time, and despite bogeys at No. 7 and No. 13, he got it.

One of the game’s big hitters, Watson has an advantage at most courses he plays - if his putting is sharp. And it was this week at Riviera, the 80-year-old course a mile in from the Pacific that, because Ben Hogan won there four times, carries the nickname “Hogan’s Alley.”

Maybe now they’ll call it “Bubba’s Bistro,” a Hollywood-type label for a course that has had numerous entertainers as members.

The Northern Trust was the last event of the Hawaii-Arizona-California swing of the PGA Tour. Play now moves to Florida, which is the road to Augusta, Ga., and the Masters, a tournament Watson also has won twice and certainly will be a favorite in this year.

“This three-week stretch has been tough,” said Watson of playing at Phoenix, Pebble Beach and now Los Angeles. “Coming here I knew I was hitting the ball well. I love this place. I feel good around this place.”

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McIlroy, 26-year-old Northern Irishman, had never seen the place this week. He said Riviera is a wonderful course, and he was very much in contention for 54 holes. Then everything went wrong Sunday following the first hole.

Chez Reavie came in seventh at 11-under 273. After missing 2014 because of wrist surgery and only qualifying full-time for the Tour with a win in a Web.com event last fall, he had two good weeks, leading for a time at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and then challenging at Riviera.

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