PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The PGA TOUR has released its nominees for the PGA TOUR Player of the Year, as well as the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year for the 2011 season. Nick Watney is one of the nominees and has worked with Dr Mo throughout the entire 2011 season.
Players were nominated by the PGA TOUR Player Advisory Council (PAC) and Player Directors. The awards are determined by a member vote, with PGA TOUR members who played in at least 15 official money events in 2011 eligible to vote. The winners are expected to be announced the week of Dec. 12.
|2011 Player of the Year nominees|
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Justin Leonard joked that he hasn’t gotten an invoice from either one. Yet.
But if Leonard keeps playing the way he did on Friday at the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Dr. Morris Pickens and Dave Stockton Jr. will surely be sending their bills to his Texas home.
Leonard fired a 63 on the Palm Course, which was his low round of the season, to seize a share of the lead in the final event of the PGA TOUR’s Fall Series. He’s tied at 12 under with Bio Kim and Henrik Stenson, two strokes ahead of Nick O’Hern.
Leonard has won 12 times on the PGA TOUR, including the 1997 British Open, but he has yet to finish in the top 10 in a decidedly sub-par 20111 season. He even missed the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup for the first time in his career.
“It hasn’t been a good year,” Leonard acknowledged. “I’m looking forward to the year being over. But it’s nice to have a chance this week to finish it off on a good note.”
Leonard credits the turnaround to some chances he made in the last few months. He sought the advice of Pickens, a sports psychologist based in Sea Island, Ga., and Stockton, a putting whiz, as well as putting in the hours with his long-time swing coach Randy Smith.
Leonard first met with Pickens on Sunday at the British Open, then the two continued their work at Greensboro and spent a day together in Dallas about a month ago. Under his guidance, Leonard has changed the way he practices to include more targeted drills rather than randomly ramming putts into the hole.
“I’m kind of moving around and each one kind of has a finish, whether it’s making 90 percent in order to be done,” Leonard said.
As far as the invoice is concerned, “I haven’t gotten it yet,” Leonard said. “We were supposed to chat about it last week, and he was very sympathetic to how I played (Leonard missed the cut). So I think he’s waiting for a good week and then it’s going to come.”
This certainly appears like it could be the week.
Complementing Leonard’s new practice strategy is Stockton. The two hooked up after the Frys.com Open and spent several hours together in San Diego 10 days ago.
Leonard, who used just 26 putts on Friday, felt the time has paid dividends as well. He made seven birdies and holed a wedge from 114 yards at the 14th hole for eagle in the 63.
“The things we talked about really resonated with me,” Leonard said. “I mean, getting back to being more natural and getting my hands a little more forward and really speeding up my routine, which has been great, because I’m kind of getting out of my own way a little bit. So it’s good.
“Haven’t gotten that bill yet either, but hoping for another phone call on Monday or Tuesday
This season, Dr Mo has been working with PGA Tour rookie William McGirt. McGirt who has quickly become a fan favorite is just happy to be playing golf for a living.
A few weeks ago, Williams McGirt found himself walking the line. The autograph line.
He was just loading his car. But every time he made the roundtrip from the TPC Boston locker room to the parking lot, a new bunch of kids were waiting with programs, flags, tickets, whatever. And, yes, they wanted his autograph.
Another week, another new experience. McGirt chuckled.
Yep, he signed them all.
“I signed anything that was put in front of me,” said the 32-year-old rookie. “It’s something I decided I’d do. As a kid I was snubbed a few times and I knew how it felt.”
One more thing. His signature is legible. Not just two initials and lines.
“One thing I wanted to make sure of is they could read my signature,” he said. “Why are you going to take the time to sign something if they can’t read it when you hand it back?
“At the Deutche Bank (Championship), I handed a flag back and the lady said, ‘Hey, this is the first one I can read.’ The flag was full.”
A little thing? Maybe. But McGirt knows that each piece of this PGA TOUR puzzle has a point and a purpose. Like his brain coach Dr. Morris Pickens preaches, “Play every round, every shot, every tournament for all its worth.”
McGirt has done just that this year. His rookie year. After six years playing every mini-tour imaginable and a year on the Nationwide Tour, McGirt has embraced his first season in primetime. And, while it hasn’t been without its bumps and bruises, he’s heading into the Fall Series with a new-found celebrity and a solid chance to keep his card.
Chances are you couldn’t have picked McGirt out of a lineup a month ago. You’d figure he was from the Carolinas when he spoke, but other than that? Not really.
He had missed 13 of 25 cuts and was ready to head from the Wyndam Championship in Greensboro to Knoxville for a Nationwide event when Justin Leonard missed a putt and McGirt grabbed the final spot in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. People noticed.
Then he played so well at The Barclays, he made it to the Deutsche Bank. More people noticed. Don’t forget about his wife, who once went four months seeing him just 8 days during the stretch, signaling his position — he needed to move up one spot — from the gallery, too.
He didn’t make it past Boston, but he didn’t stop playing. Last week, he played anyway, finishing T42 at the Albertsons Boise Open. Now, it’s four huge weeks in a row, starting at this week’s Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
McGirt enters this stretch run at 137th on the money list. By the end of it, he hopes to be nestled inside the magic top 125 — hey, 125th will do — and planning his 2012 schedule.
“It’s more excitement than anything,” he said before heading out for a practice round. “If you go into it dreading it, you’re setting self up for failure. I’ve gone in embracing it every week. ”
So why change it? When he did forget that for a bit earlier this year? He had to snap himself back.
Like every rookie, McGirt has faced the challenge of having just a day or two to learn new courses. He’d only played five of the courses on the PGA TOUR schedule prior to this year, so since he had the chance to get to Vegas early? He jumped on it, arriving at TPC Summerlin last Thursday afternoon. Of course, that came on the end of a Boise-Vegas-Atlanta-Vegas trip, so… he’s pacing himself.
He might just play nine holes today. Depends. The point is, he finally has the luxury. Good planning.
“I kind of struggle with desert golf, mountain affect,” he said. “At altitude the ball goes so much farther out here. All of a sudden you’re hitting irons, 20, 25 yards longer.”
And there’s the terrain. “When I miss fairways at home, I’m in trees,” he said. “When miss them here, you’re down in the rocks with rattlesnakes and scorpions.”
This season has been an adventure. His game has been thisclose and this . . far. . away. He’s embraced it all and one reason is Sarah — the two met at Wofford College and have been married seven years — has, for the first time, been traveling with him.
“Last year she was still working and I couldn’t wait to get home,” McGirt said. “Now, we go home and after two days we’re ready to go again. We’ve both had a blast.”
Sometimes it has been little things, other times, big things like playing — and winning — a pro-am with Carlton Fisk as a partner or watching buddy Keegan Bradley throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game. Yes, McGirt is a serious fan, too.
“I went to a game up there seven or eight years ago and I was hooked first trip up,” he said. “Been a huge Red Sox fan since. It’s just the whole atmosphere. Everyone is so into the game.”
And Bradley? “I could see him the whole time,” he said. “I told (the people he was sitting with) he’s so nervous. It would be easier for him to hit a 6-footer for par than throw out this pitch.”
He was right.
This year, McGirt has made an effort to play practice rounds with veterans like David Duval, Jerry Kelly and Rory Sabbatini. He likes to pick their brains and learn. “You can’t,” he said, “put a price on that.”
Until the Playoffs, McGirt’s season was up and down. The best example was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open where he made his first PGA TOUR cut. He was looking at a top-10 finish, too, until the last two holes. And two 3-wood shots.
At the 17th, he wanted to get it in front of the green and hit the perfect shot. “Then it bounces left, really hard, rolls off the green and off the front left part into the water,” he said.
At 18, the 3-wood doesn’t turn over. “So I fall from right around top 10 to 24th and ended up making half what I would have if par-par,” he said.
“…The thing is, I’ve played a lot better every single week than where I finished and how I’ve scored.”
What cost him at Deutsche Bank? A triple at the 14th in the final round. His tee shot hit and bounced into the rough. The marshal moved to avoid it and they never found the ball.
McGirt, who has only skipped one tournament he’s been eligible for this year, can’t do anything about the past, but he can bear down on his future. Four weeks, four chances to work his way into the top 125.
“Going in, I know what I need to do,” he said. “I probably have to make little over $200,000, but that’s just one good week out here. If can play well for a couple weeks, then everything will be fine.”
He’s already entered q-school, just in case. He’s prepared. But, like last year when he skipped a stage, he’s hoping to make a nice call at the end of the year.
“Trust me, nothing more that I would enjoy than calling the TOUR office and saying, ‘Hey, I need a refund.’
“I know how much I enjoyed calling them last year for a $500 refund. I’d love to call them for a $5,000 refund.”
Two of Dr Morris Pickens PGA tour players made it into this weeks Tour Championship in Atlanta. Nick Watney started the Playoffs ranked number 1 after having two wins in 2011 at the WGC-CA Championship and AT&T National. Watney’s standing at No. 7 in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup is more about what he did in the Regular Season and less about what he has done over the three Playoff events. Watney began the year with five consecutive top-10 finishes, including his first of two wins in 2011 at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at TPC Blue Monster at Doral. Following that victory, Watney never fell below No. 7 in the FedExCup standings and rose to No. 1 after his second victory of the year at the AT&T National at Aronimik. Watney led through the remainder of the Regular Season and into the first event (The Barclays) of the PGA TOUR Playoffs. A T10 at The Barclays kept him inside the top 5 in the standings, but a final-round 80 at the Deutsche Bank Championship resulting in a T61 finished moved him back. He finished T22 at the BMW Championship
No one started his season better than Byrd. After becoming the first player to hit a “walk-off” hole-in-one to win the 2010 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in his final event of last season, Byrd won the first event of the 2011 season with a playoff victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Byrd had an up-and-down season the remainder of 2011 with five top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss at the Wells Fargo Championship, but he also missed nine cuts. After spending most of the year in or close to the top 15 in the standings, Byrd entered the Playoffs in his lowest position of the year at No. 24. A T5 at The Barclays moved him back into the top 15.
Dr Morris Pickens works with PGA Tour superstars such as Nick Watney, Jonathan Byrd, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, John Rollins, Chris Stroud, Kyle Stanley, William McGirt and Justin Leonard. On the Nationwide Tour he works with Josh Broadaway, Matt Davidson, Elliott Gealey and Kyle Reifers. His NFL players include Oakland Raiders, Richard Seymour and San Diego Chargers own Nate Kaeding.
By Mike McAllister
NORTON, Mass. — Although Nick Watney is the best golfing Watney at TPC Boston this week, he may not be the most famous.
His cousin Heidi Watney is an on-field reporter for the Boston Red Sox. Given her association with Boston’s most beloved team, her fame extends throughout New England — which cousin Nick quickly realized during Thursday’s pro-am.
The golfing Watney, however, is hoping to sew up a spot in the top five in FedExCup points by winning the Deutsche Bank Championship. He took a nice first step by shooting a bogey-free 4-under 67 in Friday’s first round.
The highlight of his round was an eagle at the par-5 18th when he hit a 4-iron with his second shot to inside 10 feet and drained the putt.
“I saw Matt (Kuchar, one of his playing partners) was definitely right behind me and he hit a 4-iron,” Watney said. “He was a few yards behind me, so I figured it was a perfect club and I was finally able to make a putt. It was the longest one I made all day.”
Watney produced the best score in his threesome, which consists of the top three players in FedExCup points. Watney is third in points, while No. 2 Kuchar shot a 2-under 69 and FedExCup points leader Dustin Johnson shot a 3-under 68.
Johnson bogeyed two of the three par 5s during his round, but got back those two strokes with an eagle on the 18th.
A win by any member of the top three players would basically wrap up a top-five spot going into the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, no matter what happens at the next event, the BMW Championship.
The Baclays starts the Fedex playoffs with Hurricane Irene shortening it to a 54 hole event. Nick Watney who works with Dr Morris Pickens currently sits as the top seed. Courtesy of pgatour.com, here are answers to many of the questions circulating Plainfield Country Club.
1. When will the third — and final round — of The Barclays be broadcast on TV?The airtimes on the Golf Channel (1-2:30 p.m. ET) and CBS (3-6 p.m.) will remain the same. On Sunday, CBS will show the final round of the 2010 Barclays, as well as some taped coverage from Saturday’s final round.
2. What happens to the Live@ coverage on PGATOUR.COM? Well, it will be tape delayed on Saturday beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET and running through 5:30-6 p.m. There will be no Live@ on Sunday.
3. Can I still listen to the PGA TOUR Live coverage on Sirius/XM? Absolutely. That coverage will air from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday. There will be no coverage on Sunday.
4. Is there any possibility that The Barclays would be extended to next week in order to complete 54 holes? Definitely not. The tournament will conclude one way or another on Saturday.
If the entire field can complete the full 54 holes, the man who leads at the end will be the champion. If play is curtailed by weather, the tournament reverts to the 36-hole leaderboard and the FedExCup points will be distributed accordingly.
Either way Matt Kuchar has a great chance of successfully defending his title at The Barclays. He currently owns a one-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson and Vijay Singh.
5. Would the win be an official win?If 54 holes are completed, yes. If the tournament has to revert to 36 holes, the win would be unofficial but the FedExCup and money earned would be official.
6. What is the forecast for Saturday?Well, it isn’t good. Showers and isolated thunderstorms are expected in the morning and steady rain with more electricity in the afternoon. Players will be sent off Nos. 1 and 10 in threesomes from 7-9 a.m. on Saturday in hopes of completing play before the worst of the weather arrives around 2 p.m.
7. What if two players are tied at the end of 54 holes? Weather-permitting, there will be a playoff.
8. What about the ticket situation?All four competition days at The Barclays were sold out. So Saturday’s tickets will be honored for the final round. Anyone holding a ticket for Sunday will receive good-any-day passes to the 2012 Barclays, which will be held on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
9. When was the last 54-hole tournament on the PGA TOUR?That would be the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Interestingly, that event was won by Dustin Johnson, who starts the final round of The Barclays one stroke off the lead held by Matt Kuchar. This will be the 26th 54-hole event on the PGA TOUR since 1990.
Pickens is on site at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week for the PGA Championship. Dr Mo works with several players in this weeks field including; Nick Watney, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Jonathan Byrd and Zach Johnson. Dr Mo promotes a “team environment” which includes himself, an instructor, the caddy, a physical trainer and often times the players agent. It is a team that works together to help the golfer play his best golf. Rick Brown of the Des Moines Register wrote about this team environment in regards to 2007 Masters Champion and Iowa native, Zach Johnson.
Mike Bender had no idea who this new student was. He was just a name on his lesson schedule: Zach Johnson.
“Just a coincidence that he was an Iowa guy,” said Bender, a Waterloo native who is considered one of the nation’s leading golf instructors. “I didn’t even know he was from Iowa until we started talking.”
Johnson, a Cedar Rapids native and Drake graduate, had been using the practice facility at Timacuan Golf Club in Lake Mary, Fla., also the home of Bender’s teaching academy. Johnson had watched Bender give lessons to some highly skilled players, and decided to sign up himself.
“A pretty neat coincidence,” Bender said.
Their first lesson took place in 1999. They are still together today. Bender was the original member of a team that has expanded with Johnson’s success on the PGA Tour.
The 2007 Masters champion and seven-time winner now has a team that includes Bender as his swing coach; a putting coach, Pat O’Brien; a mental coach, Dr. Morris Pickens; an agent, Brad Buffoni; and a strength and conditioning coach, Chris Noss. Most of the world’s elite players take the team approach as well.
“I can’t do it by myself,” said Johnson, who tees off at 1:05 p.m. today in the first round of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. “I need the help. I need the extra eyes, the extra counsel, the wisdom, that sort of thing. We’ve got a great ensemble of individuals.
“It’s a team that I trust, and trusts me. I can’t be doing what I’m doing at a high level without other people.”
The team includes Johnson’s wife, Kim, and his caddie, Damon Green.
“Damon should be at the top of the list,” Buffoni said. “And Kim should be at the top-top of the list.”
Golf is an individual sport. Man against the golf course. But for elite players like Johnson, it takes a team to get to the finish line.
“The game has gotten so specialized,” Bender said. “There are so many guys who are specialists in the mental field, or the putting field, or the fitness side. It’s really important to have the best people who know what they are doing to form your team. Zach has a really good team.”
It is a team that works together to help Johnson play his best golf. They gather at the end of each year to discuss the past season and identify things to improve on for the season to come.
“Zach is smart enough to acknowledge he needs help, which is nice,” O’Brien said. “The thing I like about this team is that we’re all in this together. Nobody thinks they’re bigger than the other. We all like each other, too. I feel fortunate to be part of it.”
Buffoni, who first met Johnson at a Hooters Tour event in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2002 and signed him to a management contract later that summer, molds the team’s moving parts into one machine.
“I view my role as the quarterback of a team with many different skill positions,” Buffoni said. “There are a lot of things going on, and it’s nice to have one guy who oversees it.”
Buffoni wouldn’t discuss what it costs Johnson to keep his team together.
“It’s all incentive based,” Buffoni said.
Johnson’s commitment to being the best doesn’t come easy. In addition to the technicalities of the game provided by Bender and O’Brien and the mental aspects addressed by Pickens, Noss has intensified focus on the physical part of Johnson’s routine.
“I’m 35, my body is breaking down, and I’ve got to do it if I want to stay (on the PGA Tour),” Johnson said.
Johnson, who also sees a pair of tissue specialists to keep his body in top working order, puts in 12- to 13-hour days on average.
“People think it’s such a glamorous life, and he just plays golf for a living,” Kim Johnson said. “But he works very hard to play at the level he plays at.”
In addition to the time it takes to play or practice, Zach has up to three scheduled workouts per week, as well as time on a stationary bike. There also are trips to the fitness trailer before a round to get his body ready to play and then a breakdown session afterward.
“I’ll be talking to friends and they’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing after the round, want to go out and get a few beers?’ ” Johnson said. “They have no idea. I want to pass out.”
Zach Johnson was 9-years old when his future PGA Tour caddy, Damon Green turned pro. Damon pokes fun at himself, “I’ve played every tour except the LPGA…I gotta figure that one out”. Green was one of the first pro golfers to appear in a Nike Golf commercial. He’s made it to the finals of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament twice, once missing by a shot after a bogey on the last hole. After 2-years playing full status on the Nationwide tour (back when it was called the Nike Tour) and having played a few PGA Tour events over the years, Damon went to the 1998 Q-school for the last time and missed.
After a divorce that wiped him out financially, Green did some soul searching. He needed a consistent paycheck to cover child support and rent. A job in which he didn’t have to sweat out every putt just to pay bills. With a new outlook on life, the humbled mini tour journeyman began a new and unexpected profession…PGA Tour caddy.
First for fellow Nationwide Tour competitor and friend, Jimmy Green. After Jimmy lost his PGA Tour card, Scott Hoch called on Damon to tote his bag. In the caddy ranks, being the bagman for Scott Hoch was like winning the lottery. Hoch was known as the, “Human ATM Machine”. Although it was a good paying job, Hoch had something else that Green needed. Damon struggled with his course management and Scott Hoch was the expert. For 4 years, Damon quietly watched Scott get himself in but then out of predicaments on the golf course. Scott relied on Damon for yardages, occasional club selection and reading greens (Scott had bad eyesight). Hoch and Green were a good team. Damon once said, “Scott Hoch is so accurate, I have to do his yardage books in half yards”.
In 2003, Scott Hoch won his last PGA Tour title and Zach Johnson came on the scene and was named Nationwide Tour player of the year. Zach and Damon bumped in to each other at a club repair shop near Orlando and Damon congratulated Zach on his fantastic season, offering to help with a few names if Zach needed a good PGA Tour caddy. The “marriage” between Johnson and Green began there. But, Damon had to divorce Scott Hoch which was no easy task. Damon had no intention to leave Scott Hoch…that was, until Zach came along. Green had always hoped Scott planned to use him the following year on the Champions Tour. Wrenched with guilt, Damon didn’t want to miss a chance to caddy for Johnson. He took the gamble and left Hoch, which now looking back was the hardest decision of his life (and one of his best).
Seven PGA Tour victories later (and one Champions Tour win during a one week caddy gig for Hoch), Damon is still caddying for Zach and always dreamed of returning to competitive golf. Damon kept his pro status by playing in tournaments on his weeks off from caddying. His strengths include reading greens and golf course management (thanks to Hoch and Zach). Green remarried and continued collecting mini tour victories (over 70). Last year, Green turned 50 and his wife (former Golf Channel News Manager turned stay at home Mom and caddy wife) mailed in his Champions Tour entry form where he finished T17.
Associate Member status on the Champions Tour, allows Damon to skip the pre-qualifier and go straight to the Monday qualifiers. In 2011 Green spends his weeks off playing in various qualifiers. Many Sundays, taking a red eye flight after caddying 3 weeks in a row for Zach, showing up without a practice round and missing the 80+ field 4 spot qualifiers by a shot or two. But this July, things changed. Damon qualified for both the Senior British Open Championship and the US Senior Open…both Senior majors and two weeks Zach had already planned to take off. Damon is a story about perseverance and not giving up the dream. Good luck to Damon, let’s hope it turns out to be a good story. Either way, Zach will meet you Tuesday on the range at the WGC event at Firestone.
Dr Mo began working with Nick Watney one year ago. After his victory at the AT&T National, Watney joins Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson with 2 PGA Tour victories in 2011. Nick Watney is currently ranked 10th in the world golf rankings and number one on the PGA Tour Money List.
Never mind that Nick Watney was the highest-ranked player at the AT&T National, or that he won the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship in March. Stepping to the first tee Sunday in a tie for the lead at the AT&T National, he had reason to feel overlooked.
After being announced, one fan called out, “Go, Rickie!” Several other fans in the large gallery wore bright orange shirts and flat-brimmed caps to show their support for Rickie Fowler, a 22-year-old who was tied for the lead and going after that first PGA TOUR win.
“He’s obviously a very popular player. I think his time is definitely coming,” Watney said. “I would say there were probably a few more Fowler fans out there. But it is what it is. Sometimes you play away games or whatever.”
Watney doesn’t have the panache of Fowler, but his game is starting to get plenty of attention.
Playing the weekend at Aronimink in a staggering 12 under, and going the final 27 holes without a bogey, Watney closed with a 4-under 66 for a two-shot victory over K.J. Choi (67) to win for the second time this year and to move to the top in the FedExCup standings.
Watney, whose other win this year was a World Golf Championships event against an elite field at Doral, also put himself atop the PGA TOUR money list for the first time and moved to No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“It’s a very addictive feeling to be out there and under the gun,” said Watney, who had rounds of 62-66 on the weekend. “To be able to hit good shots and putts is why I play, really.”
And to think that with only 27 holes left in the tournament, Watney was trying to keep from getting left behind. Ten birdies, an eagle and no bogeys later, he was posing with the silver trophy of a Liberty Bell and wondering how much better he could get.
Watney finished on 13-under 267, tying the tournament record by Tiger Woods in 2009 when it was played at Congressional. The tournament is scheduled to return to Congressional next year.
Charles Howell III earned quite a consolation prize. He played bogey-free in the final round for a 6-under 66 to tie for third with Adam Scott (68) and Jeff Overton (67). That made him eligible for the British Open in two weeks as the top finisher from the top five who wasn’t already exempt.
Fowler had another learning experience.
He fell out of the hunt early with a double bogey on the second hole when he hit three straight shots without losing his turn. From a tough spot in the bunker, he came up well short of the green, barely got his putt up the slope, then ran his bogey attempt a nervy 3 feet beyond the hole. That became a three-shot swing when Watney made birdie, and Fowler never caught up. He finished with a 74 to tie for 13th.
“I just couldn’t get anything going today,” he said.
Watney didn’t give anyone much of a chance. He took the outright lead with a wedge into 10 feet for birdie on No. 2, and holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 fifth. Despite leaving himself in a tough spot in the bunker on the par-5 ninth, he blasted out to 2 feet for another birdie.
Even so, his biggest putts were for par.
Watney saved par from bunkers on No. 4 with a 20-foot putt, and from No. 7 with a putt from about 12 feet. His biggest par save might have been the par-3 eighth, which yielded only two birdies in the final round.
Overton had reached 9 under and was making a move, and Choi had birdied the previous to also reach 9 under. Watney’s shot went over the green, and he putted up the slope to 18 feet. He made the par putt to keep his cushion.
“That was big not to drop a shot after hitting a good shot, and keep momentum heading to the back nine,” Watney said.
Shot of the Day
Adam Scott nearly holes his 142 yard approach shot on the par-4 13th hole.
The final challenge came from Choi, who trailed by four shots at one point. He slowly made up ground, then closed in on Watney after the turn with a bending, downhill birdie putt on the 11th and a pair of long birdie putts on the 12th and 14th holes, the last one tying for the lead.
Momentum was with Choi, only the South Korean knew better. The par-4 15th played at 503 yards into a slight breeze, following by the par-5 16th that was reachable in two.
“When I tied him on the 14th hole, I knew that there was still a lot of holes to go, and I knew the remaining holes were more favorable to Nick Watney,” Choi said. “I knew the 15th hole would be a turning point. That was a key hole, and I missed it. So I think that was the turning point of the match.”
Choi pulled his shot into the left rough, then tried to hit 5-wood toward the green. The thick grass shut his club and sent the shot into a bunker, some 60 yards from the pin, and so close to the side that his legs were pressed against the edge of the bunker. Choi hit a solid shot, but it took one more hop into the rough, he chipped out to 12 feet and missed the putt.
Watney was just short of the green and lagged his putt from 75 feet to 5 feet, converting yet another important par.
On the next hole, Watney used his power to smash a drive that left him only a 7-iron to the green, and he again hit a good lag for a two-putt birdie. His seventh and final par save came from just behind the 17th green, and his chip stopped 2 feet from the cup.
Watney earned $1.116 million and became the first player this year to top $4 million on TOUR.
“I’m overjoyed to be in here as the winner,” Watney said. “It was a very difficult, long day. K.J. played great golf and he kept coming and coming. And that makes it even more rewarding.”
Enjoy reading the USA Today artical By Steve Dimeglio
(Dr Mo is on site at Congressional for the US Open working with multiple players including Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover, Nick Watney and Jonathan Byrd)
The time-honored axiom states that the Masters truly doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. For Rory McIlroy, his journey there came to a crushing end in April.
The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland took a one-stroke lead to the 10th tee before his game unraveled on one of golf’s grandest stages. In line to win his first major championship, all the trappings of sleeping on a four-stroke, 54-hole lead and thoughts of going wire-to-wire among the stately Georgia pines came to a painful head on the back nine.
For three rounds, McIlroy controlled his golf ball, the field and his emotions with skill beyond his years. In 45 minutes, he fell out of his comfort zone and landed in the Twilight Zone.
His maiden voyage as the leader in the final round of a major turned into a survival expedition. He snap-hooked his drive on the 10th and ended up between two white cabins 50 yards left of the fairway. After hitting two trees en route to the putting surface, McIlroy made a triple bogey. Another bogey on the 11th, a four-putt double-bogey on the 12th and a tee shot into Rae’s Creek on the 13th left him doubled over and wanting to hide among the azaleas. Ninety minutes later he finished in a tie for 15th.
McIlroy wasn’t the first to implode under the klieg lights. Some of the game’s biggest stars have succumbed to major heat, including Sam Snead, who made a triple bogey on the final hole when a par would have won him the 1939 U.S. Open; Arnold Palmer, who blew a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play in the 1966 U.S. Open; and Greg Norman, who squandered a six-shot lead with 18 to play in the 1996 Masters.
If recent history holds, the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, which begins today, is ripe for another meltdown. In three of the last four majors, an inexperienced member of Generation Next (none over 30) has fallen victim in a first attempt to secure a final-round lead in a major.
First up was Dustin Johnson, 26, who squandered a three-shot lead with an 82 in last year’s U.S. Open. Then Nick Watney, 30, crumbled with an 81 after taking a three-shot lead to the 55th hole of the PGA Championship. And McIlroy’s 80 was the worst round in Masters history by any pro leading after the third round.
There is no blueprint to handling emotions — or the body’s motions, including breathing — when pressure and accompanying media attention, scrutiny and criticism begin to mount and everything, from your swing, your walk and your thoughts, accelerate out of control . Or, as Hall of Famer and nine-time major champion Ben Hogan said, when the narrowest fairway in golf becomes the one between a player’s ears.
“There is a huge difference in taking a 54-hole lead (in a major) vs. a regular PGA Tour event,” says Curtis Strange, who blew a three-shot lead with six holes to play in the 1985 Masters. He went on to win back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1988-89. “It’s hard to put into words the ramped up of nerves of anxiousness, sleeplessness, pressure. It’s like an out-of-body experience.
“When you’re in a tournament and everything’s great and nice and you make putts, you basically don’t learn a damn thing. It’s during those tough situations and missteps, both physically and mentally, that you really learn how to react, how to prepare, how to hit shots. You have to experience rough times. I learned a great deal from failing.”
Waiting is the hardest part
Being the hunted in a final round is tough enough, especially when the golf course is set up as the toughest test of the week, but the weight of going to sleep with the lead can be a burden . Killing time after waking up isn’t easy, either. With tee times for the leaders so late in the day, those in the final groups have to linger for six or seven hours before hitting the first tee shot.
Again, experience helps. Phil Mickelson played chess with his kids in the morning before winning his third green jacket in the afternoon in 2010. Jack Nicklaus liked to watch the BBC broadcast of the British Open, where he once went 15 consecutive years with a tie for sixth as his worst finish, to see how the course was playing. And Tom Watson, learning to become a pilot, read flight books in 1977 when he won his first Masters.
“The biggest challenge is not the actual playing of the final round. The biggest challenge is the anticipation of the start of the round, the time between finishing Saturday and starting Sunday and how you handle that time,” four-time major champion Mickelson says. “Does holding up the trophy go through your mind? If it does you are going to have a problem.”
That’s what happened to McIlroy.
“It is very hard to keep yourself in the present and not think about winning or putting on that green jacket or walking up the last with a two- or three-shot lead,” says McIlroy, who has finished in ties for third in three majors. “My advice would be to get into a bubble and don’t let outside factors influence anything, whether that be newspaper articles, TV or anything.
“Everyone is going to have bad days. Mine just happened probably on the most important day of my golfing career.”
Managing this type of pressure has led to a cottage industry of sports psychologists who help players examine fears, frustrations and doubts. Through various practices — breathing exercises, slowing a routine, picking a good target and focusing on the little things — the ultimate goal is maintaining a positive outlook when confidence begins to vanish, most likely at the time the heart and head start to pound.
Basically, a golfer has to learn how to be comfortable, says sports psychologist Morris Pickens, when in an uncomfortable situation.
“You are being pulled by your emotions because of what others are saying. Usually by the media which is asking how winning a major would change your life,” says Pickens, who works with, among others, Watney and major champions Lucas Glover, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Davis Love III. “You get ahead of yourself. What I emphasized to Nick was to play the course, play the course, play the course. But he was playing to win the PGA Championship, to win his first major, and to make the Ryder Cup team. Doing those things on Thursday, Friday and Saturday was impossible because they didn’t exist then. So he just played the course.
“But once the clock struck midnight at the day turned to Sunday, his mind changed and he changed. It was a terrible day on the scorecard, but it was a great day for learning.”
Watney says he woke up that fateful Sunday far too early and stared at the clock for far too long. When he got to the course, he tried his best to pass time but said he basically wasted a lot of energy doing too many things. Once the round started he couldn’t slow down no matter what he tried.
“I was going very, very fast, swinging fast, walking fast, thinking way ahead,” says Watney, he has worked with Pickens for many years. “And so I think what I learned is that I’m never going to be able to block out those feelings; I just have to learn how to handle them.
“It was a foreign feeling, but I would love to have it again.”
Not everyone, after all, can be Tiger Woods or Nicklaus. Woods has won 14 of 15 majors when he held at least a share of the lead heading into the final round. Nicklaus was 10-for-12.
“If you don’t learn from (collapsing), then you’re not paying attention,” Nicklaus says. “What do I have to do not to let that happen to me again? How do I control (nerves)? And you try and turn a negative into a positive.”
Nicklaus’ lasting lessons came not only in the 1963 British Open but in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach the same year. In the Open, he didn’t play conservatively and made bogeys on the final two holes to miss out on a playoff by one shot. At Pebble Beach, needing a birdie on the final hole to win and a par to force a playoff, Nicklaus instead three-putted from 20 feet to lose by one.
“At Pebble Beach I tried to win the tournament, and I ran it by 4 feet and missed it coming back, and I said, ‘Why would I be so stupid?’ The worst I could have done was to get into a playoff,” Nicklaus says. “So I learned. I never three-putted (in a situation like that) again.”
The good news for McIlroy, Watney and Johnson is that they have not been scarred for life. McIlroy, ranked No. 8 in the world, has three top-10s in five starts since the Masters.
Watney, No. 14,Mik has seven top-10s in 11 starts this season, including a win in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. In his only major since the meltdown, the Masters, he finished 46th.
Johnson, No. 9, won the 2010 BMW Championship and nearly won the PGA Championship, drawing on his experience in the U.S. Open. After the U.S. meltdown, he found solace in a boat on the waters near his home. He says he was bothered by the final round for about 36 hours. He, however, did not forget it and figured out what he did when things went so wrong.
“It’s a funny game,” Johnson says. “I knew what I needed to do to succeed at the PGA. It definitely helped me, failing at the U.S. Open. Everything started to speed up at the U.S. Open and I couldn’t slow anything down. I forced myself to slow down at the PGA. It definitely was a learning curve.”
Johnson, however, didn’t win. All he needed was a par at the final hole to win, or a bogey to get into a playoff with Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer. He double-bogeyed 18.
“At the PGA … everybody remembers the 18th hole, but they forget about I birdied 16 and 17 to get a one-shot lead going into 18,” says Johnson, who was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a fairway bunker on the 72nd hole that he didn’t think was a bunker.
Handling that type of situation is another story.
Copyright 2011 USA TODAY