Watney wins Zurich Classic for first title

Watney wins Zurich Classic for first title

Nick Watney eagled the par-4 5th hole to jump start his final round.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AVONDALE, La. (AP) — Third-year PGA Tour pro Nick Watney was in New Orleans, with all of its renowned restaurants, and ate at a fast food restaurant for dinner.

On a Saturday night.

Maybe now that he’s taking home nearly $1.1 million in prize money for winning the Zurich Classic, the lanky, clean-cut 25-year-old will treat himself to fancier fare. Or maybe not.

“I think I’ll be the same person, but I get to play The Masters and go to Kapalua (Hawaii) to start the year, so I’m very excited,” Watney said Sunday evening, shortly after his 3-under 69 on a tough TPC Louisiana course gave him a three-stroke victory over Ken Duke.

Watney had never tasted victory on the tour before he arrived here.

He had never even led an event after three rounds, which might explain why he didn’t have the appetite for a refined, multi-course meal the night before the final round, or why he didn’t sleep as well as usually does.

Watney woke at 5:30 a.m., earlier than usual, he said, for a noon tee time.

And when he finally began play, he wasn’t at his best through his opening four holes, two of which he bogeyed to quickly squander the two-shot lead he had taken during the third round.

His response to the early adversity was to drain the shot of the tournament — a 132 yard approach that he hit with a wedge on the par-4 fifth, lifting him right back into a tie for the lead.

“I was definitely nervous to start out, but it’s a good thing,” Watney said. “I mean, any time you hole a shot there’s a little luck involved, so it was definitely my week. I’m proud that I was able to handle it.”

Watney’s highest previous finish was fifth in two tournaments last year. And it looked as though he may fall short again when he lost the lead to Duke by missing a 3-foot par putt on the par-4 10th. He bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 11th and went in front for good with a birdie on the par-3 14th.

Duke’s tee shot on 14 landed short and left of the green. His chip went 7 feet past the pin and he missed the par putt coming back to fall two shots behind. That was after Watney’s tee shot with a 4-iron had landed 8 feet from the pin.

Watney was unflappable during the final four holes, missing the fairway only once off the tee and hitting every green in regulation. Duke struggled to keep pace.

“I knew if I could get it to one coming to 18 I thought I had a chance, but he had two on me, and he played smart, and that’s what you’ve got to do,” Duke said.

Duke, a 38-year-old who also was seeking his first victory, shot a 70 to finish at 276 for the tournament.

Watney’s four-round total was a 15-under 273.

When he tapped in for par and the victory on 18, his celebration was somewhat subdued. He briefly raised both arms, clapped his hands above his head in a show of appreciation to the crowd and hugged his caddie.

He didn’t anticipate any wild times in the French Quarter, either.

“I’m pretty low key. I probably won’t live it up too much,” he said. “I’ll definitely call my parents.”

Watney became the fifth first-time winner in the last six years at New Orleans’ annual PGA Tour event, joining Chris Couch (2006), Tim Petrovic (2005), Steve Flesch (2003) and K.J. Choi (2002). All of them won at English Turn except Watney and Petrovic, the only other winner at the TPC Louisiana, which hosted its first PGA Tour event in 2005, only months before it was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The course, its fairways flooded because of drain-clogging debris that included 2,000 fallen trees, was closed for 10 months for $2 million in repairs to 30 acres of damaged turf.

But New Orleans seems to be kind to players who’ve never won, regardless of the course, in part because some the tour’s top players often skip the tournament here.

Heading into the final round, 13-time winner Mark Calcavecchia was the only player in the top five with a previous victory. He started the day only three shots back, and appeared primed to close in on the lead when his second shot on the par-5 seventh hole landed just off the fringe. He botched his chip, however, leaving himself a 35-foot birdie putt that he narrowly missed.

While the other players in his group putted out, Calcavecchia stood on the front edge of the green, staring back at the seventh fairway and shaking his head.

He missed another birdie putt on No. 8 and two bogeys on the back nine put him out of contention. He shot a 71 to tie for fifth with Bubba Watson and Chris Stroud at 10 under.

Tour rookie Anthony Kim had the best round of the day, a 65 – one shot off the course record that fellow rookie Kyle Reifers set Thursday. The round of nine birdies and two bogeys left the 21-year-old Californian tied for third with John Mallinger at 11 under.

Divots: Reifers, who led after the first round and began the final round only four shots back, shot a 75 to tie for 24th. … Officials estimated the final-round crowd at about 40,000. Recent tournaments, including the last one prior to Hurricane Katrina in the spring of 2005, were closer to 35,000 and a tournament spokeswoman said Sunday’s crowd was likely an event record.

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