Watney leans on caddie to win Barclays

Nick Watney fired a 2-under 69 on Sunday to win the Barclays and vault to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Ugly, as we all know, is in the eyes of the beholder, and even those on the same team can see the same thing differently.

Nick Watney, for instance, was aghast at his 2012 PGA Tour season. Not a good thing, given that few players beat themselves up quite like Watney, who otherwise might be the warmest and gentlest personality on tour.

Watney’s caddie, Chad Reynolds, on the other hand, looked at the same record and constantly preached perspective, telling his boss that it didn’t match 2011 but it surely wasn’t cause for a toe-to-toe slugfest with his emotions.

And if he would allow him to have the last word – which Watney did – Reynolds reminded his boss that the regular season that had apparently made him ill was over with. “This,” Reynolds said of the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, “is a new season.”

Funny, but on a week when so much credit to Sergio Garcia’s resurgence was given to his curious decision to employ non-professional caddies, the return to world-class form by Watney didn’t generate the same sort of spotlight for Reynolds. A shame, but so be it, because the important thing is, Watney heard all that Reynolds was telling him and even more important, he acted on it.

When Watney recently asked Reynolds “where do I lose the most shots (compared) to the top players?” the veteran caddie didn’t hesitate. “He said, ‘Without a doubt, it’s our attitude,’ “ Watney said.

Trusting his caddie implicitly, Watney committed to an attitude adjustment of sorts. And when it had paid off handsomely with a three-stroke win Sunday in The Barclays, an $8 million FedEx Cup playoff tournament at monstrous Bethpage Black that has changed the complexion of his season dramatically? Well, it’s no surprise that as the player accepted the obligatory flood of accolades, the caddie sat quietly with a colleague and talked of a four-day performance that has been a long time coming.

“He’s been working hard,” Reynolds said. “He started play good at the U.S. Open. I’m so happy for him because he’s such a great guy.”

• • •

For the record, here is the season results that had made Watney miserable – in 21 tournaments there were no wins, just four top 10s, and 55th in money. Most startling, he sat 49th in the regular-season FedEx Cup standings, one year after having been No. 1.

“Not quite the year I would have wanted,” Watney conceded, though he was being kind. He had truly beat himself up, as if he had lost his playing privileges, for crying out loud.

After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Watney was especially down, but Reynolds didn’t let him get too far. He stressed the importance of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the “new season” mantra, and Watney knew this was a voice of experience speaking. In 2008, after all, Reynolds was employed by Vijay Singh, who not only missed the cut in the PGA but in the next week’s Wyndham Championship, and what a sour taste that left.

So what did Singh do? He won The Barclays then the Deutsche Bank Championship which effectively made it game, set, match for the FedEx Cup.

That’s not to suggest that history is repeating itself, only that in Reynolds Watney has an anchor when all else is hooking and slicing and finding trouble. “My caddie, Chad, he said just keep your head down. He was awesome out there,” Watney said.

Having opened with a 65 to sit one behind Padraig Harrington, Watney was swiftly into a good rhythm. He was tied with Garcia through 36, but started Sunday’s final round two back of the Spaniard, who was attempting to win for a second straight week with an impromptu caddie.

Out in 34, Watney led by one, which became three when he birdied 10 against Garcia’s bogey. But on a day when he would hit 17 greens, Watney had a few hiccups with the putter, three whacks at the 11th, then again at the 12th. Reynolds pulled tight to his man and said, “you have to stay with me, OK, we’ve got plenty of golf left.”

Stepping to the tee at the par-3 14th, Watney conceded there were nerves, but that is good. “To be nervous and to pull off a shot like that was a great feeling,” Watney said of an 8-iron that left him a short birdie roll that he converted to go back up by three.

Days earlier, back on Thursday, what should have been a bogey-free day had come to an end at that same 14th hole. Firing at a devilish hole location, Watney had plugged his tee ball in the face of a bunker and when he barely got it out and made a poor chip, just like that he had a double-bogey.

So it was nice to play the 14th beautifully on Sunday, though guess what? Memories of Thursday’s encounter with 14 were revived when Watney stepped over his second shot at the par-4 16th Sunday, his lead at three and his thoughts on firing at the flagstick. Bad move. It plugged in the face of the bunker.

“Just get it out. I don’t care if it’s 40 feet. Just get it out,” Reynolds said.

Watney did as told, and while it was a bogey, it was painless. The par at the difficult par-3 17th and the closing birdie added up to 2-under 69, a 10-under 274 total, a whopping 2,500 FEC points to move into the top spot, and a tidy $1.44 million.

Not a bad day’s work, eh? The only thing is, what his victory really did – besides validate the important camaraderie between player and caddie that can translate into positive things – is make Davis Love reach for the Pepto-Bismol. That’s right, your U.S. Ryder Cup captain might not have the simple choice many of us believed he had just two weeks ago.

The feeling is, Jim Furyk, though he missed the cut at The Barclays, is still a lock to be a captain’s pick and so is Steve Stricker, who faded to T-54. No big deal what they did at Bethpage, a massive golf course that is not conducive to their games. But if Hunter Mahan arrived here to make a statement, he failed miserably, missing a cut for the second straight time and suddenly his status is teetering.

Rickie Fowler, considered by many to be someone Love is leaning toward, started well (67) and showed flashes, but eventually was T-24 – and that’s his best finish in his last six tournaments.

Meanwhile, Dustin Johnson (68 – 278, joint third) continued to show that his power can be a valuable weapon and Brandt Snedeker (70 – 277, solo second) did what he does as well as anyone on tour, make birdies. They have to have given Love a little more to think about, though surely it was Watney’s effort that put the proverbial new wrinkle into the material.

If he weren’t in the discussion a week ago, now he is, though it would be naive to think one win – even if it was a playoff affair against a stellar field over a demanding golf course – puts Watney into the final four. He has to play well again next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship outside of Boston and if he were to win or finish second or even third, well, what does Watney think?

“It’s out of my control,” Watney said. “I didn’t deserve to be in the conversation, but someone told me Davis said he wanted a hot player and we still have a week to go.”

So, as they say, stay tuned . . .

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