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Watson takes green jacket back to his roots; Mickelson ditches bag with skull on it

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. - The green jacket hardly left Bubba Watson's closet the first time he won the Masters. Already in the last three weeks, he has worn it to a hometown function for kids, to the University of Georgia, and even had it on when he threw out the first pitch in a minor league baseball game.

The difference?

Watson says winning the Masters the first time was all about him as a player, though he wanted to show proper respect to the club and its jacket. The second time around, he's more interested in using the jacket to benefit others.

"I felt like this time I should be about inspiring kids and different people, and so I wanted to give back and do some things at my schools that I went to," Watson said Tuesday at The Players Championship, his first tournament since the Masters.

He went to Bagdad, the tiny town in northwestern Florida, and after being honoured at the Historical Society, he went to his elementary school and donated money for the school to buy computers. He also visited his middle school and high school.

"For me, it was kind of about thanking everybody in the communities, thanking my teachers that really put their blood, sweat and tears into helping Bubba Watson," he said. "I might not have paid attention like I should, but it was, just to say thanks to everybody that's helped me throughout my young life."

At Georgia, he attended what Watson described as "an awards banquet for the smart kids."

"I wasn't ever invited to this banquet," he said. "It took me two green jackets before I finally got invited to this event."

His message to the children was to listen to the teachers. His message at Georgia was to give back to the community. And thus ended the Bubba Tour.

"We asked the members and the chairman at Augusta if we're allowed to use it (the green jacket) for certain events, but now it's done," Watson said. "It's up in the closet. Now we're going to hopefully try to contend at some other tournaments."

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LEFTY AND THE SKULL: Callaway Golf has a new slogan for its Odyssey brand of putters called, "Innovate or Die." It's part of a promotion in which staff players carry a black bag with the motto written around what appears to be a skull and crossbones. It's actually a skull with 10 golf tees sticking out the bottom of the chin, and the crossbones are a pair of "Odyssey #7" putters.

It's an attention-getter. But it wasn't for Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson carried the skull on his bag for the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship. By Friday, he sought permission from Callaway to go back to the staff bag (red, white and blue) that he had carried all year.

"He called last week and said, 'Do you mind if I carry my regular Callaway bag?' And we told him, 'Do what makes you feel comfortable,'" said Nick Raffaele, Callaway's vice-president of tour. "He just didn't feel like it was him."

There was no criticism levelled at Mickelson, and Callaway said it has not received any negative comments, but there were murmurs from some in the crowd at Quail Hollow when they saw the skull on the side of his bag.

To each his own. Not surprisingly, Pat Perez thought it was the coolest bag he ever had.

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LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Jordan Spieth had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play in the Masters until a four-shot swing over the next two holes. He wound up in a tie for second behind Bubba Watson, and Spieth later said the loss stung.

Jack Nicklaus speaks from experience when he said last week it would serve Spieth in the long run.

Nicklaus won his first U.S. Amateur in 1959 and played in the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills the next year at age 20. He played the final 36 holes on the last day with Ben Hogan and could have won except for a 39 over the final nine holes. Hogan had a shot until hitting into the water on the 17th hole, and Arnold Palmer wound up winning when he closed with a 65 for what would be his only U.S. Open.

"I keep telling Arnold, 'If I hadn't shot 39, nobody would have heard of you,'" Nicklaus said last week.

On a more serious note, he thinks winning the U.S. Open at age 20 "would have been the worst thing that ever happened to me."

"Here I have been a 20-year-old kid winning the biggest tournament in the world, and yet I wasn't ready to win," Nicklaus said. "It was just as much like the problem Jordan Spieth would have had if he won the Masters. You get to the pinnacle at age 20, it's hard to keep growing and believe in your mind that you need to work. So it was the best thing that ever happened to me."

Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur again the following year, turned pro in 1962 and defeated Palmer in a U.S. Open playoff at Oakmont for the first of his 18 majors.

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GOLF AND FOOTBALL: Among the reasons The Players Championship moved away from its late March date were to give it separation from the Masters and because it often got lost in a month that featured the NCAA basketball tournament.

Now it has to go up against the NFL draft, which starts Thursday night, in a town that has an NFL team. The course is near Jacksonville, home of the Jaguars.

"I continue to believe that it won't have much of an impact on our telecast," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. "Most of the hoopla is around the first round."

Beyond television, however, Finchem conceded The Players will lose some attention.

"I don't think that really has an effect on us, but it does. There's only so many column inches out there and things online that people are going to read. ... I'm not troubled by it, but I suppose if they moved it up, it wouldn't hurt."

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DIVOTS: Manulife has signed on as title sponsor of the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Canada for at least two more years. In its first two years, the tournament has attracted more than 125,000 spectators. ... The McGladrey Classic in 2015 will start awarding a spot in the field at Sea Island to the winner of the Jones Cup, one of the top amateur events in the country. Past champions include Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Luke List. ... Among the former champions in the field at Sawgrass, include Morgan Hoffmann. He won the Junior Players Championship in 2007. ... NBC and Golf Channel will present a one-hour film called "Payne" a week before the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open just four months before he perished in a freak plane crash. NBC will broadcast it at 5 p.m. EDT on June 8, and Golf Channel will show it at 10 p.m. EDT on June 9.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: In the six years since Phil Mickelson won The Players Championship, he has failed to crack the top 10. Tiger Woods won The Players in 2001, and then went six years before he recorded a top 10 at the TPC Sawgrass.

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FINAL WORD: "I'm obviously for it." — Phil Mickelson on what he thinks of a U.S. Open course without rough.

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