Watney plays role of the closer at Cadillac Championship

By Rex HoggardMarch 14, 2011, 3:42 am

WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – As projects go, Butch Harmon was working with two vastly different canvases as morning wore to afternoon on Sunday at Doral. With his arm draped over Nick Watney’s shoulder the swing sage offered only a simple pep talk that bordered on cliché.

“Nick is probably playing better than anyone in the field right now,” Harmon said. “I just told him you just need to go play golf . . . take care of business and the business will take care of itself.”

On Sunday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship business was good, a closing 67 for a two-stroke victory. Not a bad day at the office by any measure.

On Wednesday, Watney went through the media rigors of a photo shoot, complete with a San Francisco Giants jersey with his name and the No. 24 on it in honor of his childhood hero the “Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays. Considering his play on Sunday, it would have been more apropos had the life-long Giants fan worn the jersey of eccentric hurler Brian Wilson – a kindred closer.

Harmon’s omega started Sunday two strokes adrift of his alpha, Dustin Johnson, and pulled to within one stroke with back-to-back birdies to open his day and played the turn in 3 under to edge ahead of his long-hitting stablemate.

Nick Watney
Nick Watney had 22 putts in the final round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. (Getty Images)

From there the man his Tour friends call “Rube” was nearly perfect with five pars, capped by a 25-foot momentum saving par putt at the 14th hole, and a birdie from 12 feet at the last – a filthy fastball to sit down the side.

“Two years ago came into my head (when he was outdueled at Doral and lost by a stroke to Phil Mickelson), and also Whistling Straits, just the letdown and disappointment of the way that I performed that day,” Watney said. “So I just wanted to, you know, give myself, or allow myself to play well and to execute, and I was able to do that.”

Not that Watney, whose understated demeanor borders on the aloof and obscures a game that is ready for primetime, is one for theatrics or facial hair. Although his caddie Chad Reynolds is almost as wanting in the grooming department as Wilson following an ill-conceived challenge from his boss earlier this year.

At Torrey Pines, Watney convinced Reynolds not to cut his hair until he finished outside the top 10. Since then Watney has finished T-6, T-5, T-6, T-9 and first. Reynolds’ mane is now 4 inches long and growing. But it’s a hygiene hit he’s willing to take.

It’s not as though Watney’s waltz to his third Tour title was without some adversity. On Saturday he stepped to the 18th tee tied for the lead, pulled his drive into the Blue’s watery abyss and stewed.

“I told him you’re probably going to have the same shot again and have a chance to redeem yourself,” Reynolds said. “Damn if he didn’t.”

Even on Sunday Harmon’s pep talk for the other half of his high-profile stable went straight back to last year’s U.S. Open. Johnson was also looking for a measure of redemption at Doral. Last year’s victory at the BMW Championship helped put to rest the demons of Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits, but the questions remain.

“I was really proud of him. He came out early (Sunday) and did everything in slow-mo,” Harmon said. “At Pebble he looked like Carl Lewis he was so fast. But he’s just more relaxed now.”

Although Johnson didn’t add to his burgeoning resume, he couldn’t find much fault in his play at Doral. He ranked seventh in fairways hit (a statistical anomaly for such a power player) and 11th in greens in regulation but struggled on the Blue’s putting surfaces.

“I didn’t make any putts,” said Johnson, who carded a Sunday 71 and finished alone in second place at 14 under. “I drove it well, I even rolled it well, but I was just a little bit off.”

The same could be said for Tiger Woods.

There was progress by way a closing 66 which matched his low round of the year, Day 2 at the Dubai Desert Classic, and his lowest in an official PGA Tour event since the second round of last year’s Deutsche Bank Championship.

“Every tournament that I’ve played this year I’ve felt better coming out of it,” Woods said. “Even though the results have not been good, I’ve felt better because it identifies some of the things I need to work on and that’s a good thing.”

The complete package, however, remains elusive. In fact, the current version of Tiger 4.0 looks a lot like Luke Donald circa 2007, a master of the backdoor top 10. And three days paired with Mickelson didn’t seem to help Woods’ fragile psyche.

Lefty is hitting the ball well beyond his 40 years, which is to say well past Woods who showed little confidence in his driver, or either of the two putters he trotted out at Doral.

Both head north to Bay Hill with more questions than answers and short on time in the run-up to Augusta National. Mickelson, who was 4 over on the weekend and tied for 55th, was long (third in the field with a 306-yard average) but wrong with his irons, hitting just 44 percent of his greens in regulation. While Woods’ optimism seemed well placed considering he tied for sixth in greens in regulation and first in putts made distance.

Yet as encouraging as Woods’ Round 4 play and Mickelson’s driving was, the year’s second WGC belonged to Generation Next.

In order those billed as the next great wave finished first (Watney), second (Johnson), eighth (Rickie Fowler) and ninth (Hunter Mahan). That Watney topped that marquee underscored how underappreciated he may be outside of the fairway ropes.

He was overlooked as a potential Ryder Cup pick last year despite a tie for 18th at the PGA Championship and just two missed cuts in 24 events and his understated style keeps him out of the press room and the limelight.

Quietly, almost cautiously, Watney has emerged as a bonafide superstar, albeit a reluctant one. There will be no celebration in the Watney house Sunday. He still has his NCAA bracket to fill out – he’s an avid North Carolina fan – and next week’s stop in Tampa looms.

For the ultimate closer, it’s always about the next game.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.