Most popular stories from USA TODAY

  1. HF Test1003.02:29:42.4321755
The story so far: Variety, comebacks, Bubba
Updated 4/25/2012 6:17 PM ET
This week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the 19th of the 37 events in the FedExCup regular season. Here are three story lines to sum up the first half of the season:

Everybody's winning

So far this year, 18 events, 17 different winners. Only Hunter Mahan (World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, Shell Houston Open) is a multiple winner on Tour. That's pretty standard for the FedExCup era (since 2007):

2007: 16 winners in the first 18 events (two two-time winners, Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods).

2008: 16 of 18 (one three-time winner, Woods).

2009: 16 of 18 (two two-time winners, Geoff Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson).

2010: 16 of 18 (two two-time winners, Ernie Els and Jim Furyk).

2011: 17 of 18 (one two-time winner, Mark Wilson).

Masters champ Bubba Watson, one of those 17, has an explanation: "Our motto is these guys are good," he says.

Simple.

What's not so simple then is picking a winner. There are, after all, 156 guys in the field.

"If I go out there and play my game, I have a chance to win," Watson says. "If the other guys go out there and play their game and hit good shots, they have a chance to win."

Among this year's champs are first-timers (Kyle Stanley), whatever-happened-to-him winners (Ben Curtis), guys who you might not know much about but who have been tallying the wins in recent years (Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson) and the big names (Woods, Mickelson, Rory McIlroy).

Another thing making prognositcation difficult this year …

No lead is safe

Of the 17 stroke-play events (not counting the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play), only seven of the 54-hole leaders have gone on to win. And that makes it exciting for everyone … except perhaps the 54-hole leader.

Among those blown leads were back-to-back debacles in January and February.

At the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Kyle Stanley made a disastrous triple-bogey 8 on the final hole to wipe out what once was a seven-stroke lead. Then he lost in a playoff to Brandt Snedeker.

One week later, Stanley rebounded to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open, overcoming an eight-stroke deficit and taking advantage of Spencer Levin's collapse.

And that brings us around to the biggest story, the come-from-behind winner at the Masters …

Bubba

Bubba Watson is competing with himself for story of the year.

Either it's his Masters victory, or it's the shot, that incredible twister from the trees on the 10th hole in the playoff that led directly to that Masters win.

Either way, it struck a chord, not only with golf fans, but with casual sports fans.

"I'm just Bubba from Bagdad, Fla.," Watson says. "Play golf because I love the game. I play golf because it's fun. …

"It resonates with everybody because I'm from a small town, I played public golf courses growing up, and I think everybody can see that. Everybody can see that my swing is homegrown. That means everybody has a chance to do it. Hard work, dedication, practice and the drive to do it, and not worry about what other people say."

So much has changed in one month.

A new father — Watson and his wife, Angie, adopted a month-old boy named Caleb two weeks before the Masters. A major champion. And two weeks after trying to let it all soak in, it's time for Watson to get back to work. He is defending his title this week in New Orleans at the Zurich Classic.

If not for the responsibility he feels to defend, Watson would much rather be home.

"We figured out we've had him for a month, and I've been home, I think at the most, nine days, maybe eight days," Watson said. "So it's not enough, not a lot. So it's hard leaving him. It was hard leaving today, but that's the change."

One thing that won't change: Bubba will still be Bubba on the course.

"I just play golf. I just enjoy playing golf," he says. "Anbody can hit balls on the range. It's a wide-open field. You never hit balls out of bounds on the range."

And then there would be no need for the kind of shot at which Watson so excels, a gap wedge from deep in the trees, 155 yards away that curved 40 yards and came to rest 15 feet from the hole, leading to the Masters win.

"It's not going to work for everybody," Watson says, "because my mind is obviously way different than a lot of people's."

###

Featured groupings

The world No. 2 (Luke Donald), an accomplished veteran (K.J. Choi and one of the Tour's young stars (Keegan Bradley) highlight Thursday's afternoon wave (1:30 p.m. ET).

Following that group will be Nick Watney and major champions Ernie Els and David Toms (1:40).

Highlighting Friday's afternoon wave will be defending champ, and Masters champ, Bubba Watson, who will be joined by Steve Stricker and Webb Simpson (1:30).

Stat of the week

269.1: Driving distance in yards that Ben Curtis averaged in his victory Sunday in the Valero Texas Open, again proving it isn't all about the long ball. Curtis finished 74th among the 76 players who made the 54-hole cut, and he was the seventh winner this year to finish below 50th in driving distance for the week.

Posted 4/25/2012 6:05 PM ET
Updated 4/25/2012 6:17 PM ET
Bubba Watson signs autographs Wednesday ahead of the Zurick Classic of New Orleans.
By Susan Poag, AP
Bubba Watson signs autographs Wednesday ahead of the Zurick Classic of New Orleans.