Even after a year that didn’t come close to his expectations, Nick Watney wasn’t about to give up on his season.
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Amazing how one week changed his outlook in so many ways.
He beat one of the strongest fields of the year at The Barclays, on the tough track of Bethpage Black. Winning the opening playoff event for the FedEx Cup guarantees him a good shot at the $10 million prize. And suddenly, playing in the Ryder Cup becomes a lot more realistic.
That all came into play Sunday when Watney didn’t miss a green until the 16th hole, turned a two-shot deficit against Sergio Garcia into a three-shot lead, overcame a trio of three-putt bogeys with clutch birdies, and closed with a 2-under 69 for a three-shot victory.
"It’s been not quite the year I wanted," Watney said. "But this really makes it all forgotten. Winning a tournament is hard, but winning out here and against this field was very, very difficult. I’m kind of still on a high right now."
US captain Davis Love III has a lot more choices for his four wild-card selections next week.
Watney won by three shots over Brandt Snedeker, who already was part of the discussion as a potential pick. Snedeker, a winner in San Diego and a contender in the British Open, battled to the end and made big putts on the last two holes for a 1-under 70 to finish alone in second.
Dustin Johnson, also under consideration as a pick, shot 68 and tied for third with Garcia, whose bogey on the final hole gave him a 75.
Not even Watney thought he was worthy of being picked for the Ryder Cup going into the week.
"I’m thinking much more now than I was coming in," he said. "Coming in here, I didn’t deserve to be in the conversation because I had not played my way in. Someone told me that Davis said he wanted a hot player, and we still have a week to go. But like I said, I’d love to be on the team. But I’m not really concerned with it just because it’s out of my control."
Love will announce his picks after the second playoff event, the Deutsche Bank Championship, which ends on Labor Day. Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are likely to be two of those picks, and the other two suddenly are wide open.
"Ryder Cup is definitely on my mind," Snedeker said. "But I’m not letting it affect the way I play. Try to win every golf tournament. It gives me more motivation to do it, and if I do that, I know I will make the decision easy for them.
"Davis has an extremely difficult choice with a bunch of guys who did not play well enough over the last two years to be on the team. You can’t go wrong with any of them. I think that it’s certainly helped everybody who played well this week."
Watney, who won for the fifth time in his career, finished on 10-under 278.
In what amounted to a duel with Garcia for so much of the day, Watney fell two shots behind after he three-putted for bogey on the fifth hole and Garcia made a 40-footer for birdie on the next hole. Garcia, going for his second straight PGA Tour win, never had much of a chance after that.
"I hit a couple bad shots at the wrong moments," Garcia said. "And unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling comfortable."
Watney two-putted for birdie on the seventh. On the par-3 eighth, Garcia scrambled for bogey from the bunker, while Watney holed a bending, 30-foot birdie putt to take his first lead of the day. Another two-shot swing followed on the 10th, when Garcia three-putted and Watney hit a beautiful approach to 4 feet for birdie.
Both were sloppy on the back nine, but Watney hit all the right shots and seized control for good with a 10-foot birdie putt on the 14th.
"I made more putts than I made all year," Watney said.
He credits that to some tips from Darrell Kestner, the respected club pro at nearby Deepdale, a lesson set up by a friend. Kestner worked on his setup, mainly keeping Watney from leaning to far back on his heels.
"It paid off," Watney said.
Tiger Woods, six shots behind at the start of the day, never made a move. He alternated between bogeys and birdies until the sixth hole, and his round imploded on the back nine with a three-putt double bogey on the 12th, a poor wedge that led to bogey on the par-5 13th, and a tee shot on the par-3 14th that sailed over the green and one-hopped against the gallery. He closed with a 76 and tied for 38th.
Woods left without speaking to the media. It was this third 72-hole tournament over par this year, the other two coming at majors.
Bethpage Black didn’t feel like one on Sunday.
After a third round in which several players felt the greens were close to dead and nearly impossible to putt, there was plenty of water on them overnight. High scores were more a product of bad play, and it was difficult for anyone to make up too much ground because conditions were comparable throughout the day.
And while it was effectively a two-man race for much of the day, there was plenty at stake in the FedEx Cup.
Only the top 100 players advance to the Deutsche Bank for the second of four playoff events. The biggest move belonged to Graham DeLaet of Canada, who started the week at No. 106 and was right on the bubble going into the final round.
It turned out way better than DeLaet could have imagined. Despite back-to-back bogeys on the front nine, he answered with four birdies on his next seven holes, and then holed out with on the 15th for eagle with a 9-iron from 161 yards. He closed with two birdies for a Sunday-best 65.
Not only did he advance, DeLaet moved up 62 spots to No. 44 and should be safe for the next two tournaments.
"I guess a lot of people think there’s too much volatility in it, but it was in my favor," DeLaet said. "If you can have one really good event, you can catapult yourself up. And now I feel I have a chance to get into the Tour Championship, where this morning I was just hoping to play next week."
It was a good day for another Canadian — David Hearn. Playing with Woods, he closed with a 71 and moved from No. 108 to No. 67. The other four from outside the top 100 who moved in were Jonas Blixt, Tommy Gainey and Jason Day, who closed with a 66.
The odd man out was John Mallinger, who started the week at No. 88 and missed the cut. He became the highest-seeded player to fail to advance since this FedEx Cup playoff system began in 2007.