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
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Watch: Pieters snaps club ... around his neck

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 1:19 pm

After opening in 3-over 75, Thomas Pieters was in no mood for more poor play on Friday.

Unfortunately for Pieters, he bogeyed two of his first three holes in the second round of the BMW PGA Championship and then didn't like his second shot at the par-5 fourth.

Someone - or some thing - had to pay, and an innocent iron bore the brunt of Pieters' anger.

Pieters made par on the hole, but at 5 over for the tournament, he was five shots off the cut line.

It's not the first time a club has faced Pieters' wrath. 

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Woods would 'love' to see Tour allow shorts

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:59 pm

Players on the European Tour are allowed to wear shorts during practices and pro-ams.

The PGA of America permitted players to show some leg while prepping for last year’s PGA Championship.

Tiger Woods would like to see the PGA Tour follow suit.

"I would love it," he said Thursday in a Facebook Live with Bridgestone Golf. "We play in some of the hottest climates on the planet. We usually travel with the sun, and a lot of our events are played in the summer, and then on top of that when we have the winter months here a lot of the guys go down to South Africa and Australia where it's summer down there.

"It would be nice to wear shorts. Even with my little chicken legs, I still would like to wear shorts."

Caddies are currently allowed to wear shorts on Tour, during events.

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Feasting again: McIlroy shoots 65 to lead BMW PGA

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 25, 2018, 12:04 pm

Updated at 9:42 a.m. ET

Rory McIlroy made seven birdies and no bogeys on Friday for a 7-under 65 and the second-round lead at the BMW PGA Championship.

After opening in 67, McIlroy was among the early groups out on Day 2 at Wentworth Club. He made three birdies and no bogeys on the par-35 front nine on Friday, and then went on a run after the turn.

McIlroy made four consecutive birdies, beginning at the par-5 12th. That got him to 12 under, overall, and gave him a clear advantage over the field. With two closing par-5s, a very low number was in sight. But, as he did on Day 1, McIlroy finished par-par.

"I've made four pars there [on 17 and 18] when I really should be making at least two birdies, but I played the other par-5s well," McIlroy said. "It all balances itself out."

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

McIlroy has made 14 birdies and two bogeys through two rounds. At 12 under, he has a three-stroke lead over Sam Horsfield.

"The work has paid off, to some degree," McIlroy said of his practice with swing coach Michael Bannon. "I still feel like I'm hitting some loose shots out there. But, for the most part, it's been really good. If I can keep these swing thoughts and keep going in the right direction, hopefully this is the type of golf I'll be able to produce."

This event has been feast or famine for McIlroy. He won here in 2014, but has three missed cuts in his other three starts. This week, however, he’ll be around for the weekend and is in position for his first European Tour victory since the 2016 Irish Open and his second worldwide victory of the year (Arnold Palmer Invitational).

"I have the confidence that I'm playing well and I can go out and try to just replicate what I did the day before," McIlroy said about his weekend approach with the lead. "On the first tee box tomorrow I'll be thinking about what I did today. Trying to just keep the same thoughts, make the same swings. I went a couple better today than I did yesterday. I'm not sure I'll keep that progression going but something similiar tomorrow would be nice."

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Goat visor propels Na to Colonial lead

By Will GrayMay 25, 2018, 1:29 am

Jason Dufner officially has some company in the headwear free agency wing of the PGA Tour.

Like Dufner, Kevin Na is now open to wear whatever he wants on his head at tournaments, as his visor sponsorship with Titleist ended earlier this month. He finished T-6 at the AT&T Byron Nelson in his second tournament as a free agent, and this week at the Fort Worth Invitational he's once again wearing a simple white visor with a picture of a goat.

"I bought it at The Players Championship for $22 with the 30 percent discount that they give the Tour players," Na told reporters. "It's very nice."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Perhaps a change in headwear was just what Na needed to jumpstart his game. Last week's result in Dallas was his first top-35 finish in his last six events dating back to February, and he built upon that momentum with an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead over Charley Hoffman after the first round at Colonial Country Club.

While many sports fans know the "GOAT" acronym to stand for "Greatest Of All Time," it's a definition that the veteran Na only learned about earlier this year.

"I do social media, but they kept calling Tiger the GOAT. I go, 'Man, why do they keep calling Tiger the GOAT? That's just mean,'" Na said. "Then I realized it meant greatest of all time. Thinking of getting it signed by Jack (Nicklaus) next week (at the Memorial)."