Watneys Eyes on the Prize

By Brian HewittApril 23, 2007, 4:00 pm
The eyes have it.
 
Nick Watneys eyes.
 
They werent bulging down the stretch Sunday at Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
 
But they were bigger than a dinner bowl of gumbo and dirty rice at a back table in a French Quarter eatery.
 
I had a lot of adrenaline flowing, Watney said.
 
The 25-year-old kid from Fresno held off journeyman Ken Duke Sunday and showed why he ranks No. 1 in ball-striking on the PGA TOUR.
 
And all the while his eyes were wide open. Some players stop and smell the roses on the way to their first victories in The Show that is major league golf in the United States. Watney didnt miss an ocular trick. His field of vision was wider than the mouth of the Mississippi River that makes New Orleans so important to Americas economy.
 
And if youre searching for the next Ryder Cups answer to Zach Johnson or Vaughn Taylor or J.J. Henry or Brett Wetterich for the American side, look no further than Nick Watney.
 
The pedigree is there'Watney is a former Walker Cupper which gives him something in common with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, among others. And the instructor'Butch Harmon is in place.
 
Its interesting to note that at a time when Phil Mickelson is reportedly about to jump Rick Smiths ship and sign on with Team Harmon'and at a time when Natalie Gulbis father is reportedly unhappy with her results under Harmons tutelage'Watney has been with Butch for two full years. (Little known fact, by the way: Watney played high school golf against Gulbis.)
 
There were moments Sunday when it was clear the polish hasnt yet completely dried on the spit shine Harmon has applied to Watneys game. Like the three-putt from 7 feet on the 10th hole that temporarily left Watney a shot behind the 38-year-old Duke who was also looking for his first TOUR win. And there were the nervous bogeys by Watney on the third and fourth holes that ate into the two-shot lead he carried into the final round over Duke.
 
I was definitely nervous to start out, Watney said.
 
But he followed those two dropped shots with a spectacularly holed wedge on the par-4 fifth for an eagle two that may be the bounce back of the year so far in professional golf. For the record, it was a pitching wedge from 132 yards.
 
When Duke made birdies on seven and eight, Watney birdied eight as well by knocking a wedge to kick-in range to keep pace. Then there was the pivotal 14th where Watneys 8-foot birdie putt found the bottom of the cup while Dukes 7-foot effort for par stayed above ground.
 
The resultant two-shot swing held until the 18th where Duke bogeyed and Watney parred for a three-shot victory in his 76th TOUR start and first-place money of $1.098 million dollars. And, oh-by-the-way, Watney will now be playing in the next months Players Championship, next Januarys Mercedes-Benz Championship and next springs Masters.
 
Im living a dream right now, Watney said. Im on cloud nine.
 
Watney didnt come out of nowhere. He won $1.2 million on TOUR last year and has plans to move soon to Las Vegas to be closer to Harmon.
 
Watney isnt a rookie. But if youre looking for a Rookie of the Year candidate stay focused on Anthony Kim whose Sunday 65 was the low round of the day and good for a share of third place. Kim is another one of those guys whose chances of making the 2008 Ryder Cup team look as good as any other players who would be Ryder Cup rookies.
 
My games been coming around, Kim said late Sunday after earning $353,800. Overall, Im pretty excited about the way I finished.
 
Just not as excited as Watney. All you had to do was look into his eyes.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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    Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

    By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

    SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

    Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

    He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

    Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



    The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

    ''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

    Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

    He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

    Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

    ''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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    13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

    Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

    Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

    “An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



    Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

    Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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    McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

    It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

    Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

    Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    “I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

    Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

    “Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

    This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.