Tale of two nines for Nick Watney
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- What do you do after shooting a course-record 62, including a back-nine 27? If you're Nick Watney, you go practice, of course.
Long after his round was complete Saturday afternoon at the AT&T National, Watney was the only golfer on the chipping green at Aronimink Golf Club, hitting balls from every angle, every lie.
Apparently with 11 putts on his inward nine, he didn't get enough chances to work on his short game.
So how was such a low round possible?
"I think the greens are a bit softer than they could have been," said Watney, who at 9 under shares the 54-hole lead with Rickie Fowler. "I heard they put some water on them. They gave us a drivable par-4. Other than that ... I guess the greens are so good that you can really start making putts."
Fowler, 22, is in search of his first PGA Tour victory. He got off to a fast start, birdieing three of his first four holes in the third round en route to a 64.
"Before I teed off, I saw that some guys were playing well and that some guys were making birdies and that birdies were definitely out there today," he said. "I got out, and my game has been feeling good all week, so I went out and started off well, hit some good shots and kept moving from there."
Of all the numbers that stand out from Watney's day -- including the fact that he made 36 feet of putts on the front nine and 122 feet on the back nine -- the most impressive might be that he shot par 35 on his outward nine holes. But he never let that get to him.
"Well, I think for me that shows progress," he said. "I mean, in the past I've definitely -- even last week I kind of let a bad shot grow into something more. So I'm pleased that I was able to kind of get past that. I was just really trying to stay somewhat in the tournament, and luckily things went well."
After he made the turn, Watney kicked it up a notch, starting at the 10th hole.
"For some reason the ball just -- the hole looked really big on the back [nine]," he said. "The ball was going where I was looking, and by the time I looked up, I was 8 under par."
On any other day, Fowler's front-nine 30 would have stood out. But on Saturday, he was one of five players to shoot 30 or better on nine holes. Tom Gillis and Chris Kirk carded 30s on the front nine while Scott McCarron's 30 came on the back nine to go along with Watney's 27.
Watney and Fowler will play in the last pairing in the final round. Due to bad weather expected Sunday evening in the Philadelphia area, all the tee times will be moved up for an expected 4:30 p.m. ET finish.
In his career, Watney owns three victories, including a 2-shot win over Dustin Johnson at the WGC event at Doral in March.
Alone in third place just a shot back of Fowler and Watney is 36-hole leader K.J. Choi, who won this event in 2007 when it was held at Congressional Country Club. Choi birdied his first hole to get to 8 under but then bogeyed three of his next five holes to fall off the pace. He rallied late in his round, though, and shot 69.
Overall, how easy did Aronimink play Saturday? Forty of the 76 players who made the cut broke par and nine shot 65 or better.
If Fowler wants to get win No. 1, he plans to draw on his experiences, including a second-place finish at Memorial in 2010 after leading through three rounds.
"I think the biggest thing is just go out and be patient, not get ahead of myself and not get too excited or anxious," he said. "So kind of just sit back, relax, go through things the same way tonight and just go have some fun tomorrow."
Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.
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