By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One of golf's most intriguing characters, Bubba Watson is best known for his power hitting with a distinctive pink-shafted driver but among his peers he is renowned for his extraordinary shot-making.
The self-taught American learned to play the game as a youngster by hitting wiffle balls around his house, swiftly developing the ability to cut and hook the ball at will.
Since his rookie season on the 2006 PGA Tour, left-hander Watson has steadily established himself as one of the top players on the circuit and yet it is his ability to conjure shots which gives him the greatest satisfaction.
"I definitely can't hit it dead straight. I like to move it every shot just because I feel more comfortable doing that," the 32-year-old from Bagdad, Florida told Reuters.
"Hitting big hooks and big cuts with irons, that's something I can do naturally. And I hit it in the trees a lot, so I know how to get out of trees pretty good," he added with a flashing smile.
Ever since he first appeared on the professional tours, the slim but loose-limbed Watson who regularly drives the ball over 310 yards has stunned fellow players with remarkable shots.
Tiger Woods vividly remembers watching him cut a one-iron over trees and on to the green from a distance of around 320 yards at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan.
"We see him two groups ahead of us and we have a big logjam and he pulled out iron," 14-times major winner Woods, himself a prodigious hitter, recalled. "We heard he's long, but come on.
"All of a sudden you hear this huge roar. He pumped it on the green. I don't have that shot. If I hit a good three-wood, I'll probably fly it in the front bunker or bounce it in the front bunker. Yeah, he's long."
At the PGA Tour's season-opening Tournament of Champions in January, Watson set tongues wagging with another breathtaking blow -- this time a driver off the fairway from 305 yards.
Playing his second shot into the par-five 18th at the Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course in Hawaii, he moved the ball 50 yards from right-to-left in the air before it bounced, rolled and ended up 10 feet from the cup. He coolly sank the putt for a remarkable eagle three.
"He never ceases to amaze me," Watson's wife Angie, a former professional basketball player who competes in amateur golf at a high level, told Reuters.
"He is always pulling off something, and even more so when we are just playing for fun because he is more keen to try something that he maybe wouldn't try in a tournament round."
The blonde 6-foot-4 Canadian recalls a particularly impressive shot which her husband produced during one of their "fun" rounds together in Alabama.
"He had like this much of a gap to go through and I was really worried about him getting hurt," Angie said while placing her hands roughly a foot apart.
"But instead of swinging toward the trees, he turned sideways and he hooked the ball about 60 yards through the air. It was a two-iron from 270 yards and he hit it to like 10 feet for eagle. It was amazing."
If there was one thing just over a year ago which prevented Watson from fulfilling his abundant golfing talents, it was his mental approach to the game.
An effusively emotional character, he repeatedly berated himself for poor play and had a tendency to allow his mind to wander while he was out on the course.
"My mind is now in the right spot," said Watson who has won twice on the 2011 PGA Tour and climbed to 15th in the world rankings. "I have a lot of confidence in my game and everything is working in the right direction."
"The mental part of it has been the biggest thing for me this year, that's what is keeping me together and letting me play well. But it's definitely a work in progress. You have bad days, you have good days."
Angie believes her husband has benefited immensely from putting golf into its proper prospective.
"He's not living and dying by every shot as much as he used to and he realizes there are many things in life that are a lot more important than golf," she said.
"That was spurred on by what we went through last year in losing his dad. Along with our Christian faith, that has allowed him to mature and grow as a person and as a player."
Watson clinched his first PGA Tour title at last year's Travelers Championship, dedicating the win to his wife and also to his father, Gerry, who was battling lung cancer and died four months later.
This week he will be bidding to claim his fourth victory on the U.S. circuit at the Deutsche Bank Championship near Boston, the second of the tour's four lucrative playoff events.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)