Watneys Eyes on the Prize


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.
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