Lexi Thompson, Bubba Watson within striking distance, other notes from the QBE Shootout

NAPLES, Fla. — The Lexi and Bubba Show got off to a good start at the QBE Shootout on Friday.

Lexi Thompson, the LPGA Tour star, and Bubba Watson, the two-time Masters champion, shot a 13-under 59 and are tied for fourth at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.

“She played amazing,” Watson said. “Couldn’t ask for a better partner. She made some key putts.”

“I kind of knew going into it just the way he shapes shots into greens and off the tee and everything,” Thompson said. “I was actually expecting a lot more shot shaping, but it was still so impressive. I’m just amazed with the guys, how high they can hit it, how they can work balls into pins. I learn something every time I tee it up with the guys, especially Bubba.”

QBE Shootout 2021QBE Shootout 2021

QBE Shootout 2021

Lexi Thompson lines up a putt on the second green during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

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Watson said Thompson made five putts in a row for the group at one point, so he asked a rules official if it was OK if he practiced putting after they had holed out.

Watson did have a pair of notable moments — on the same hole.

On the par-4 13th, rules officials moved up the tee on the short par-4 so players could for it with their drives. So the long-hitting Watson did just that, but it struck a fan wearing a Buffalo Bills T-shirt standing near the green, then caromed off the fan’s right elbow and stopped 10 feet away.

“The way it was standing, it ricocheted toward the hole, and came off of him,” Watson said. “There was a little slope there, 10 feet. Everybody around the green and him — he thought it was going in for sure.”

Watson made the eagle putt, and gave the fan a signed golf glove and Thompson signed a ball and gave it to him.

“I apologized,” Watson said.

Bubba Watson of the United States plays his shot from the third tee during the first round of the QBE Shootout at Tiburon Golf Club on December 10, 2021 in Naples, Florida. Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images.

The eagle jumpstarted a stretch of four birdies before the two parred the 18th.

“I didn’t have my best,” Watson said. “There was a couple shots I had some loose shots, but she kept it together and kept our team rolling. Felt the energy was nice. I felt we had some good conversations.

“Shooting in the 50s, it’s a good spot to be at and we’re not too far out of it. The next couple days are really the days that you can drop back or go forward real fast, so that’s the whole goal is to hit some good tee shots (Saturday) so we can be in some good places to hopefully make a few birdies.”

Three-time champions Harris English and Matt Kuchar, who played with Thompson and Watson, though the pair clicked well.

“Lexi played awesome today,” English said. “She was driving it well, putting well, doing everything. I was really impressed with her game. They’re a great team. They played really good golf and I think they’ll be up there come Sunday.”

Emotions of Shootout banquet

The Thursday night dinner usually hits both ends of the spectrum with players and those attending. While there are laughs to go around, there also are somber moments with the reminder of why the tournament exists.

CureSearch, the National Childhood Cancer Foundation, always has been the main tournament charity. The keynote speaker is always representing the charity, and many times has been a childhood cancer survivor. This year, Robin Koenig, who lost her son Jake 15 years ago, was the speaker.

Will Zalatoris hits the ball during the QBE Shootout on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Tiburón Golf Club in Naples, Fla. Caitlyn Jordan/Naples Daily News/USA Today Network.

“It was quite a tear-jerker, especially when you have kids yourself,” Matt Jones said. “It was my first time being here so to realize what QBE and CureSearch, everything they do here for the last 33 years is quite impressive. I honestly had no idea the funding that’s gone into the cancer side of it from the QBE Shark Shootout and it was very good. I was very happy to be there.

“I went through the cancer battle myself with my wife, Jennifer,” said Ryan Palmer, who is playing with Jones this week. “Fortunately, she’s doing great. But I was able to meet the family there on Thursday and we talked a little bit about their son and everything. What a night they put on. Greg Norman does an awesome job, what QBE does, Mercedes Benz to cure cancer. It’s always a night that I’m very proud and honored to be a part of and I look forward to it every year.”

Will Zalatoris, the 25-year-old PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, also is playing in the Shootout for the first time.

“It’s pretty powerful last night,” Zalatoris said.

Na rings the siren

Kevin Na’s already had a pretty good week. Last Sunday, Na got to run the siren at the NHL’s Vegas Knights.

“It was a lot of fun,” Na said Thursday. “I know some of the guys that play out at Southern Highlands. My coach Drew Steckel is a huge Golden Knights fan. He gives half the team golf lessons.

“It’s a lot of fun. The crowd gets really wild. It’s a great stadium.”

Poulter, Howell and Formula One

When Lee Westwood had to withdraw due to an illness, Poulter knew exactly who he wanted to play with — Charles Howell III, a fellow Orlando resident.

“He’s a big F1 fan now, so we’ve got a lot to talk about over the next few days,” Poulter said.

Apparently, that also included coordinating outfits. The pair both wore white shirts and black pants Friday. They shot 11 under and are tied for seventh.