Nick Watney is no longer a twentysomething with something to prove. Now 30, he appears to be coming into his own.
While Watney admits he is a long way of joining those golfers who have 10 — or even 20 — wins, he is becoming at ease with the winning. At last year’s PGA Championship he held the 54-hole lead before shooting a final-round 81. As odd as that may seem, that round may have been the catalyst for this run of success.
“Definitely the moment got the best of me, and I performed very badly,” he said. “But I really feel like I learned a lot that week, especially Sunday, and I knew it was going to be a long, hard day. Even if you come out of the gate, make three birdies, it’s going to be a long day.”
Sunday’s win vaulted Watney to No. 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and allowed him to strike one item off his 2011 goals list.
“That’s really, really cool,” he said. “But at the same time I can’t rest on that. I’m very, very pleased, but I feel there’s still work to be done.”
When Charles Howell III left Oklahoma State University to turn professional in 2000, he was considered one of the PGA Tour’s new young guns. Eleven years later, Howell has not quite been the standout pistol.
Howell, 32, was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2001 and played on the 2003 and 2007 U.S. Presidents Cup teams. His two tour wins came at the 2002 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill and the 2007 Nissan Open.
Sunday’s third-place tie at the AT&T National — his second straight T3 — pushed his season’s earnings to over $1.5 million for 2011, already surpassing his entire 2010 season. Since finishing ninth on the tour’s money list in 2002, he has cracked the top 15 only once and that was the following year in ’03.
“My game is improving,” said Howell, who made switched from instructor David Leadbetter to Todd Anderson in 2009. “I played well a couple weeks ago, and it was nice to have two weeks off and then come back and play well this week. It was disappointing to miss the U.S. Open, having to watch that on TV.”
At least Howell will not have to miss the upcoming Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. His third-place finish at Aronimink qualified him for his seventh British Open. His best finish, though, in any major was a T10 at the 2003 PGA Championship.
Amateur Patrick Cantlay has played three successive PGA Tour events, and made the cut in each. Had he been playing as a professional, Cantlay would have earned approximately $250,000. That alone would have him sitting at around 155th on the PGA Tour money list.
Nick Watney was not the only person smiling on Sunday. Titleist rolled out its 712 prototype-line of irons to the PGA Tour pros, and Watney won with the 712 AP2s in his bag. The irons, though, will not be available for public consumption until after getting the players’ feedback and making proper adjustments.