Notes: Watney crushes Clarke in first round

Nick Watney

Nick Watney

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RBC Heritage

Hilton Head, SC - Harbour Town Golf Links

12:17:02 PM ET. 04/20/2014




PosNameTodayThruScore
1Luke DonaldE -8
2John HuhE -6
T3Charl SchwartzelE -5
T3Nicholas ThompsonE -5
T3Jim FurykE -5
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MARANA, Ariz. – He was struggling. At least that was the word coming in from Los Angeles where Nick Watney placed a pedestrian T-34 at last week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

Coming on top of lukewarm starts at Pebble Beach (T-40), San Diego (T-60) and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (T-12), it surely has been a slow start to the season for the affable Watney, but apparently this Accenture Match Play Championship business gets him back in a good frame of mind.

Throwing down three birdies and a scintillating eagle at the par-5 11th, Watney was 4 under for the mere 14 holes it took for him to dispatch Darren Clarke in Round 1. The initial news was positively fueled, for Watney had showed his explosive scoring prowess for perhaps the first time in weeks. Later, the flip side of his victory was clear: It set up a second-round match with Tiger Woods.

“I played very well,” said Watney, who seems to do just that in this tournament. He has made it to the third round in each of his two visits here, twice beating Lee Westwood along the way. Woods will be perhaps his most formidable challenge, though Watney was just enjoying the solid play, especially since his team members had all given him a pep talk of late.

His wife, Amber; his coach, Butch Harmon; his caddie, Chad Reynolds; his sports psychologist, Mo Pickens . . . “they all pretty much have had the same message – you’re out there (acting) like every shot is life and death and it’s very hard to play that way.”

One shot that wasn’t life and death, yet it was pulled off brilliantly, was Watney’s second into the 599-yard, par-5 11th. From 268 yards, he slammed a 3-wood that came to rest within 3 feet. So superb was the shot that Clarke pulled the flagstick, stood to the side, watched Watney tap it in, then gave him a fist bump and led the round of applause.

When the day was done and Watney settled into the far left corner of the range to wind down with a session, who grabbed a spot 30 feet to his right? Woods, his second-round opposition.

“Yeah, I gave (the bracket) a look,” Watney said, acknowledging that he knew he could face Woods. “I definitely didn’t look past Darren, but I saw the possibility of playing Tiger.”

And?

“I like it,” Watney said with a smile.

• • •

EYES ON THE PRIZE: Now that world No. 1 Luke Donald has been eliminated from the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, losing 5 and 4 to Ernie Els in the first round, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood can become tops in the world ranking if they win the tournament here this week.

“That definitely gives me added incentive this week,” McIlroy said after he beat George Coetzee, 2 up. “If anything, it gives you more motivation.”

McIlroy, 22, would become the second youngest world No. 1 since the ranking began in 1986. Tiger Woods was 21 when he first became No. 1 in 1997.

– Jeff Rude

• • •

COMEBACK OF THE DAY: Jason Day was 3 down walking off the 15th green against Rafael Cabrera-Bello when an enormous thud could be heard throughout the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.

It was the Spaniard slamming open the door. He bogeyed the par-3 16th. Then he bogeyed the par-4 17th. Oh, and for good measure, Cabrera-Bello bogeyed the 18th.

Not wanting to perhaps ask for too much generosity, Day took matters into his own hands at the 19th hole, the par-4 first, when he slammed a shot from 159 yards to 3 feet and closed out the dramatic victory with a birdie.

“Match play, like I said, it’s a funny kind of game,” said Day, who’ll meet fellow Aussie John Senden in Thursday’s second round.

• • •

NO HAT, PLENTY OF PUNCH: Robert Rock is often regarded as the guy who doesn’t wear a hat while in competition. But he’s quickly demonstrating a ton of game, too.

A few weeks removed from his victory over Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi, Rock strolled into Dove Mountain and learned he was to play the world’s eighth-ranked player, Adam Scott.

Ho-hum, no worries. Rock made just three birdies, but took advantage of Scott’s scratchy play to post a 1-up triumph in his Accenture debut.

“Quite a relief to get through, really,” Rock said. “We didn’t play the best. There were probably better matches out there on the course.”

The Englishman speaks the truth, because while he only shot level-par 72, what oepned the door was Scott’s six bogeys – including a crucial one at the par-4 17th. Just 1 down, Scott had just 132 yards to generous hole location and with Rock having missed the green wide right, you could say the green light was on and the door wide open.

Scott shut it on his own foot, missing the green wide left, then he missed a 6-foot putt for par that would have squared the match. Instead, matching bogeys kept Rock in the lead, then at the 18th, Scott again missed the green right with a shot from just 156 yards.

Though he moves on, Rock wasn’t getting caught up in the conquest of Scott, just weeks after beating Woods and McIlroy.

“I’ve been pretty lucky the past few weeks,” he said. “I was a bit off today. I got lucky today.”

It’s the third time in the last four years Scott has left after the first round.

• • •

HE TAKES THE EARLY BUS FROM DOVE MOUNTAIN: With a 1-up loss to Martin Laird, long-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros is now 0-4 in this tournament.

It was a tight match all the way, Quiros 1 up early, then 1 down through 12. But the big Spaniard got even when he made par at the 14th, only to lose at the final hole when he three-putted from 38 feet and Laird stuffed his approach to 3 feet.

Quiros had previously been ousted in Round 1 by Stephen Ames, Mike Weir and Y.E. Yang.

• • •

LONG HIATUS: Before qualifying for the HSBC Champions in China last fall, Paul Lawrie hadn’t played in a WGC event since a first-round loss to Nick Price in the 2003 Accenture.

That’s nine years and 218 tournaments between match play starts and even more since his last win in this event, a 5-and-4 triumph over Chris DiMarco in 2001.

“There is no point in playing in these events if you are just going to come here and get beat,” Lawrie said after his 1 up victory over Justin Rose. “You have got to come here and play well and try to have a good week to climb up the ladder as far as you can.”

The 1999 Open Championship winner, Lawrie over the last year has been climbing out of a considerable hole. Ranked 243rd in the world after a missed cut in Dubai last February, he has been solid since then. He won the Open de Andalucia de Golf in March, finished second at the Dubai World Championship in December, and prevailed again a few weeks ago in Qatar.

That moved him to 47th in the world and earned him an invite here, one that he thus far has taken advantage of. He’ll take on Ryo Ishikawa in Thursday’s second round.

“There quite a few different reasons to be fair,” Lawrie said of his renewed success. “I've been playing a bit more golf at home with my boys. My boys are pretty good players and they drag me out now and again to play golf when I'm home. I've been in the gym a wee bit. I'm a little fitter and a little leaner. So I think the whole thing combined has made me better. “

• • •

MOST CURIOUS MATCH OF THE DAY: Dustin Johnson seemed destined for an 0-4 Accenture record, being 3 down through 10 to one of the game’s steadiest and smartest players, Jim Furyk.

But Johnson won the par-5 11th with a bogey – that’s right, a bogey! Furyk’s double there was followed by Johnson’s eagle at the par-5 13th, then Johnson birdied the par-4 15th and par-3 16th to go 1 up.

A stunning turnaround that got even stranger when Johnson made a sloppy bogey at the 18th to square the match.

Bizarre that this match had been, no surprise that it came to an end in a similar fashion because at the par-5 second, the 20th hole, Johnson drove it left into the desert, took a penalty drop, made a shaky par – and still won the match. He did so because Furyk was greenside two, but chipped across the green, then three-putted from 40 feet for an ugly, match-ending bogey.

• • •

ITALIAN POWER: Matteo Manassero at 18 is the youngest player in the field and he’s also turning into a giant killer. Last year he ousted Steve Stricker then Charl Schwartzel before losing to Luke Donald. This year he has opened with a win over Webb Simpson.

Winning the first hole with a birdie, Manassero got a gift at the second when Simson three-putted from 12 feet for bogey. The teenager from Italy never returned the favor, going 3 up through four and knocking down a key birdie roll of 13 feet at the par-4 15th. Then, at 16, Manassero made par to close out Simpson.

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