Nick Watney's putting practice pays off at Buick

Nick Watney’s putting practice pays off at Buick

Watney, 127th in putting in '08, is 23rd this year.
Robert Beck/SI

What do you have to do to make an impression? Winning the Buick Invitational ought to accomplish it, although when 2009 champion Nick Watney approached the 18th green at Torrey Pines on Saturday and Sunday, the greenside announcer introduced him as Nick Watley on both days. “Did he?” Watney said when told of the gaffe. “I didn’t even notice.”

On Sunday ol’ Whatshisname had more pressing matters, such as negotiating 60 feet of slick green, down and across a ridge, in two strokes for a birdie and a chance to win for the second time on Tour (his first: the 2007 Zurich Classic of New Orleans).

A birdie was no sure thing for a guy whose coach, Butch Harmon, decided that Watney, 27, should spend the last off-season working on his most glaring weakness — his putting. Good call, Butch. Watney’s first try at 18 settled 21/2 feet below the hole in gimme range, and when third-round leader John Rollins missed his 15-footer for birdie, Watney tapped in for the W.

Last year Watney ranked 127th in putting. After three starts in ’09, his fifth season on Tour, he’s 23rd, and in addition to winning the Buick, he was 25th at the Hope and 12th at the FBR Open, shooting a 63 in both tournaments. “Last year was very frustrating,” said Watney, a long-hitting native of Sacramento who lives in Las Vegas. “I hit the ball much better than my results. I’d have one three-putt a round.”

Watney entered Sunday five strokes behind Rollins and was still three down with five holes to play. Watney pulled even at the par-3 16th, where he drained an unlikely 40-footer from the back fringe for birdie while Rollins made bogey from a plugged lie in the front bunker. Then, after reaching the par-5 18th in two with a 235-yard hybrid shot (Big Play, page G14), he closed the deal with his putter. “No three-putts today is a big deal to me,” Watney said, “and something I’m very proud of.”

The $954,000 payday gives Watney more than $5.7 million for his career, which ranks 157th on the alltime money list, a spot ahead of another Whoozthat. Some guy named Nicklaus.