Nick Watney makes it a happy Fourth
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- A week ago, Nick Watney couldn't "putt it in the ocean."
After a new flatstick was overnighted to him and he put it in play immediately, the results were almost instantaneous as Watney claimed the AT&T National by two strokes over K.J. Choi on Sunday.
"It's a very addictive feeling to be out there and under the gun, and to be able to hit good shots and putts is why I play," said Watney, who carded a bogey-free 66 a day after setting the course record of 62 at Aronimink Golf Club.
The victory didn't come easily, though, as Choi mounted a back-nine charge when his birdie at the long par-3 14th pulled him into a tie for the lead. A hole later, Choi made double-bogey and never seriously challenged the rest of the way.
Choi was aiming to become the first two-time winner of the AT&T National after winning the inaugural event in 2007 at Congressional Country Club. The tournament will return there next year after a two-year break in Philadelphia because Congressional was renovated for last month's U.S. Open.
Watney's caddie, Chad Reynolds, knows that the putting was crucial, but it might have been his demeanor on the course that made all the difference in claiming a fourth PGA Tour victory.
"This week we worked on his attitude," Reynolds said on a hot and humid day on which the tee times were pushed up because of threating weather that never materialized. "And that was the whole goal the whole week. No matter what happened, keep a positive attitude and see what happens."
As for how they handle the putting that helped Watney make five putts of more than 10 feet and 94 feet of putts on the front nine alone Sunday, Reynolds said it's about putting things in perspective.
"I ask him all the time when you get over a putt 'Do you care? No. [And he says] Do you care? No.' I try not to put too much pressure on it. You still have to go play golf. It's just a putt. It's one stroke.
"And then you go on to the next hole. Keep your head out of it, keep all the expectations out of it, and try to call it your little bubble. We just stay in our little bubble and the rest will take care of itself."
Watney's bubble had several opportunities to burst all over the front nine Sunday.
On the fourth hole, he needed to hole a 23-foot putt to save par when his greenside bunker shot came up short. The same thing happened on No. 7 when Watney's attempt to get up and down from the greenside trap stopped nearly 13 feet from the cup. Both times, he drained the lengthy putts to keep what ended up being a bogey-free 66 going.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was Rickie Fowler, who shared the 54-hole lead with Watney.
AT&T National Leaderboard
1. Watney (-13)
2. Choi (-11)
T-3. Howell III (-9)
T-3. Overton (-9)
T-3. Scott (-9)
T-6. Stroud (-8)
T-6. Allenby (-8)
The 22-year-old Fowler struggled early in the final round and never got on track. He played his first four holes in 3 over and recorded his lone birdie of the day on the par-4 11th to finish with a 74 in a tie for 13th. Fowler was seeking his first career PGA Tour victory.
The win for Watney is his second of the season after taking the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in March and also pushes him to first in the FedEx Cup standings. After cashing the $1,116,000 check, the win gives him $4,189,233 in earnings on the year, which is nearly $1 million more than his next best season.
As for what's next for Watney, the British Open looms less than two weeks away.
"We've got two majors to go, so hopefully I can put myself in a good position in one of those tournaments," said Watney, who is expected to move to No. 10 in the world rankings after his victory. "I think I've learned from the first two that I maybe placed a little too much importance on the Masters and the U.S. Open, so I'm going to go to the British and try to do my best but maybe take it a little easier on the bad shots."
If Watney can follow through on that game plan, a victory at Royal St. George's isn't out of the question.
Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.
MORE GOLF HEADLINES
- McIlroy opens defense of Aussie title with 69
- Tiger announces hiring of swing consultant
- American Koepka top rookie on Euro Tour
- Stenson wins in Dubai; 2nd to Rory in points