Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson is the captain of RangeGoats GC Image Credit: LIV Golf

Two-time Masters Tournament champion Bubba Watson will be ‘pulling’ for Anthony Kim at LIV Golf Jeddah this week, with the American cult hero making a return to professional golf for the first time in 12 years.

Following his withdrawal from the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship with injury, Kim underwent surgery the following month to repair an injury to the Achilles tendon in his left leg and hasn't participated in a professional tournament since.

Prior to his 12-year exile, the three-time PGA Tour winner possessed a swagger and flamboyant flair that made him a fan favourite during his heyday, starring in a U.S. Ryder Cup victory in 2008 and setting the record for birdies in a Masters round with 11 at Augusta National in 2011.

To the delight of his legion of fans around the world, including RangeGoats GC Captain Bubba Watson, Kim was confirmed to be returning to competitive action earlier this week, with LIV Golf announcing he will compete in all remaining regular season tournaments on the circuit as one of two Wild Card players.

If he were to accrue enough points in the league’s individual standings, the 38-year-old would earn a team place in 2025.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Watson when I asked him about Kim’s return to the game.

“I saw him for a brief second earlier today, said ‘hey superstar’, as he hadn’t seen me because he was talking to some people, and just shook his hand.

“Gosh, I was on Tour in 2006 and I think his rookie season was 2007, so I was there when he did his heroics. I think he left quick in 2012, so yeah it was special to watch.

“There are so many things that we remember about him. First of all, just choking up, every club was choked up and his swing just looked pure as can be. It will be interesting, it’s good to see him back out here.

“I’m a golf fan, so I wouldn’t have cared what tour he played on or where he played in the world, I was going to watch it because he was such a great talent.”

Kim secured his first PGA Tour victory at the 2008 Wachovia Championship before picking up a second title just two months later at the AT&T National.

Those triumphs helped him on his way to posting his best season in the States, finishing sixth on the money list and fourth in the FedEx Cup standings. That same year, he made his Ryder Cup debut and spent 20 weeks inside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking, with a career-high of No. 6.

A record round at Augusta National followed shortly after, with Kim carding an incredible 11 birdies during his seven under 65, before he wrapped up a third PGA Tour victory at the 2010 Shell Houston Open, joining a select group of players to win three PGA Tour titles before the age of 25.

Anthony Kim LIV Golf
Kim during a practice round ahead of LIV Golf Jeddah Image Credit: LIV Golf

Nobody at that stage would have predicted that to be the last time he got his hands on silverware.

But injury problems became apparent in 2012, which led to him withdrawing from several tournaments, before he made his last competitive start at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, where he retired after just one round.

The surgery on his Achilles tendon following his withdrawal was meant to keep him out of action for almost a year, but that wouldn’t be the case with Kim heading into exile until now.

It has been widely reported that he decided to cash in on a lucrative insurance policy, which would have been void had he returned to the professional ranks.

He was certainly an undeniable talent back in the noughties, but with 12 years away from the sport coupled with the injury problems that effectively saw him retire at the age of 26, what sort of state will his game be in this week at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club?

“I don’t know, it’s such a mystery,” said Watson.

“I haven’t had time to talk to him, so I don’t know how much he’s been practicing. What I heard was the last two to three years he’s really grinding and wanting to play again.

“It’s funny to see him with his long hair, as I’ve not spoken to him or seen him in 12 years, right?

“I’ll pull for him, I want him to play well, but I just want to be one better than him. He can finish second!”

LIV Golf Jeddah gets underway on March 1, with Kim and Watson joining the likes of three-time DP World Tour Championship winner Jon Rahm and Dubai resident Adrian Meronk in the 54-hole event in Saudi Arabia.