Nick Watney doesn’t have the best memories of the 18th hole at TPC Blue Monster. Just yesterday, he knocked a poor drive into the drink, spoiling a fantastic round with a double-bogey. Two years ago Watney needed to chip-in to force a playoff with Phil Mickelson and left it one roll short. On Sunday afternoon he got his redemption — bombing a drive down the middle, hitting his approach to 13 feet and pouring the putt in the center cup to throw a dagger in the hopes of Dustin Johnson, who was watching from the 18th fairway. Watney also secured the WGC-Cadillac Championship title.
“I’m very proud just that I was able to execute the (tee shot on No. 18),” said Watney. “The circumstances were very important, but I’m proud that I allowed myself to make a good swing, and luckily the ball went in the fairway.”
On his approach, the 29-year-old American aimed for just right of the pin.
DJ, the 54-hole leader, needed to channel Craig Parry, who holed out in 2004 to beat Scott Verplank, to tie and take the tournament to extra holes. With a 9-iron from 151 yards, he almost did.
“I knew I had to make it,” said Johnson in his post-round press conference. “I had to hit it right at it, which I did. I hit a great shot in there, so I gave it everything I had. When it was in the air, I thought for a second it had a chance. I mean, it had a chance the whole way.”
Per usual, DJ didn’t seem too bothered. As he walked out of the interview room, he asked me, “Did you have fun last week?” Of course, he was referring to the first-ever Steve Marino Ping Pong Invitational.
DJ, who played alongside Watney in the final group on Sunday at the PGA Championship and shares the same swing instructor, Butch Harmon, considers Watney a good friend.
“I told him walking off that if I was going to lose to somebody, I was glad it was him,” said DJ. “He played really well. I didn’t give him the tournament. He earned it.”
Watney’s efficiency as a ballstriker has never been questioned, but his short game has. On Sunday perhaps Watney proved it’s an area of improvement for him. He credits the advances to working with mental coach Morris Pickens who has helped him develop a process to assist with his stroke under pressure.
“When I first started working with him, discussed what I did think about when I was putting — this is to go three-under-par or this was a nice save or whatever — instead of, my target is the right edge of the hole,” explained Watney. “So I just try to think of where I want the ball to start and hit it. It’s really quite simple to be honest.”
Playing in the penultimate group, Watney shot a brilliant five-under 67 in tough conditions. After missing a short par-putt on No. 11, he rebounded with a birdie on No. 12, and of course, No. 18, for not just his third-career victory, but also his fifth top-10 finish of the season in the same number of starts.
At his first start of the year, the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, Watney and his caddie Chad Reynolds pledged not to cut their hair until Watney finished outside of the top-ten.
“I’m not sure how (the bet) is getting so much attention, but his hair is looking a bit nesty,” said Watney, laughing.
During the off-season last October, Watney got married in Carmel, CA, to Amber Uresti, Tour player Omar Uresti’s niece, who perhaps deserves some credit for Nick’s run.
“It’s helped me just to have some stability out there and (Amber’s) a good support system,” said Watney.
He’ll tee it up again in Tampa at the Transitions Championship.
“To win this tournament against this field, it’s a huge honor,” Watney said. “I’m very excited and proud, but next week, we all start tied at level par. So I think I’ll take that I was able to mentally and physically execute down the stretch under pressure. Take that, store it in my memory bank, and get after it again on Thursday.”
(AP Photos/J Pat Carter and Lynne Sladky)