Notes: Caddie, wedges key to Watney’s success

Nick Watney (right) with his caddie Chad Reynolds at Doral.

Nick Watney (right) with his caddie Chad Reynolds at Doral.

It was a short time after last summer’s Open Championship when Nick Watney engaged his caddie, Chad Reynolds, in conversation. Watney respected the fact that Reynolds had worked for one of the world’s greatest players, Vijay Singh, and had no doubt seen near-flawless golf up close and personal.

“What do I need to do to get better?” Watney asked.

Having that greatest-of-all qualities that players want in their caddies, Reynolds is a man of few words but great conviction. He simply put his hand around the wedges in Watney’s bag and said, “You need to make these your friends.”

Soon after, Watney and Reynolds on Tuesdays would embark upon four-hour practice rounds – for nine holes. Reynolds would drop balls at various spots short of the green – 80 yards, 55 yards, 15 yards – and he’d drop them in rough and on the fairway. Watney would hit shot after shot – low hard spinners, big high feathers, bump-and-runs, whatever was called for.

But even as Watney improved, Reynolds suggested more. He thought Watney should go see James Sieckmann, a short-game guru of sorts who has worked with Ben Crane, Charlie Hoffman and Tom Pernice.

“Two sessions with Sieckmann and his short game improved 20 percent (statistically),” Reynolds said.

Five tournaments into 2011 and Watney has a win, five top 10s, and he’s broken par in 13 of his 16 stroke-play rounds.

You’d have to say those wedges have become his friends, eh?

• • •

Watney’s closing prowess has been a logical topic of conversation since winning at Doral. In his last nine stroke-play events, dating back to last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs, his final-round scoring average is 68.89.

That’s pretty stellar stuff, but overlooked is a 10th tournament in that mix – the Accenture Match Play Championship. At Dove Mountain, Watney in the third round was 2 down with two to play when he proceeded to hit a wedge from 141 yards to 8 feet at the 17th, then an 8 iron from 181 yards to 4 feet at the 18th.

The birdie, birdie finish allowed Watney to push the match into extra holes, where he lost when Ryan Moore curled in a long birdie putt.

Match play being match play, Watney was ousted despite making nine birdies in 19 holes. But you could say he proved his point; he’s developed a splendid finishing kick.

• • •

It could be considered crunch time for those trying to play their way into the Masters. Only two tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule remain – this week’s Transitions Championship and next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational – before the March 28 cutoff for spots awarded to those within the top 50 in the world rankings.

Everyone handles these things differently, of course. Rory Sabbatini, for one, chose to play and play and play to try and get himself back into the big theaters and you have to give him an A for effort. On his eighth consecutive week, Sabbatini won at the Honda Classic to not only get into the Masters, but also the World Golf Championship at Doral last week.

Good for Sabbatini, he is playing a 10th straight this week at the Transitions.

J.B. Holmes opted for rest and will thus put all his chips in at Bay Hill next week. Holmes thought he was going to get a break in his schedule Feb. 23-27; instead, he got in as an alternate to the Accenture Match Play Championship, played a few rounds, and thus changed his schedule. He left Arizona 56th in the world order, withdrew from Honda, wasn’t eligible for Doral (and chose not to play in Puerto Rico), and is not playing at Transitions this week. Having dropped to 58th, he’ll need a huge week at Palmer’s party next week.

Another notable name sitting just outside the top 50 but pushing to get into Augusta – Matteo Manassero is 55th, though he’s in the field at Transitions and the API.

• • •

Speaking of the Masters, hard to believe, but Sergio Garcia is exempt under just one of 19 categories – a three-year ride for winning The Players Championship. He did that in May of 2008, so 2011 is his last ticket to Augusta under the exemption. Watching the precocious one, at 31 years old, try to work himself back into world-class standing remains one of the more interesting storylines for 2011.

Presently, Garcia is 85th in the world rankings, but what emphasizes just how far this star has fallen is this: He is not presently exempt into either the U.S. Open or British Open.

Those majors also reward a three-year gift to the Players Championship winner, but it would have been 2008-10 for each of those tournaments.

Garcia’s appearance at the Masters will be his 47th consecutive major championship. You have to go back to the U.S. Open of 1999 to find the last one he missed.

• • •

Another sponsor exemption has fallen John Daly’s way, so he’s teeing it up at the Transitions Championship. Last week in Puerto Rico, Daly ran off four straight birdies late in his second round to get to 3 under, only to finish double-bogey, par, bogey and miss the cut by one.

Since his last top 10, which came at the American Express Championship in the fall of 2005, the numbers for Daly are startling: 95 PGA Tour tournaments, 40 missed cuts, 17 withdrawals and just 38 checks totaling $788,593.

What has to push you back in your seat is the number of withdrawals – 17 times in the last 95 tournaments, or roughly 18 percent of the time he quits early. OK, give him the legitimate injury here and there, but come on. There are hundreds and hundreds of dignified tour members who go a career without but a handful of withdrawals so this number is embarrassing.

Say this about him, he does not discriminate; he withdraws on everyone. His 17 WDs are spread out among 16 different tournaments (he’s quit the PGA Championship twice), many of which were sponsor exemptions.

Daly isn’t in either of the next two tournaments – the Arnold Palmer Invitational or Shell Houston Open – but he can at least look forward to making money three weeks from now, when he makes his annual stop in Augusta, Ga., to sell merchandise during the Masters.

• • •

Favorite stat of the week: Joe Affrunti roared up the standings in the category for sand saves inside of 10 yards. He went from 999th to T-1 – apparently by making one up-and-down in Puerto Rico. Pretty funny, actually, but it’s a shining example of how the huge majority of golf stats are meaningless.

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