5 Things: Nick Watney takes Wyndham lead

Nick Watney during the third round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C.
Nick Watney during the third round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. ( Associated Press )

Saturday, August 16, 2014

GREENSBORO, N.C. –– The Wyndham Championship's third round began with 15 players within two shots up top and ended with 13 players within four shots of the lead. In other words, the traffic jam at Sedgefield Country Club continues.

Nick Watney holed an 18-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the last hole Saturday to shoot 5-under 65 and get to 14-under 196. He leads by one stroke over Canadian Brad Fritsch (65 Saturday). Freddie Jacobson (66) and Heath Slocum (68) are two back, and Brandt Snedeker (66), Webb Simpson (66) and Scott Langley (69) are three behind.

Here are 5 Things you need to know:

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1. ATTITUDE SHIFT PAYS OFF: Nick Watney, a five-time PGA Tour winner, came here with only one top-10 finish in 23 starts this season–a tie for eighth two weeks ago at the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev. Now he has a chance to salvage what has been a poor season.

“(A victory) would save it,” said Watney, who seems to resemble comedian Jim Carrey more by the day.

He credits his improved play over the last three weeks to an attitude adjustment. He said he was “really down” after missing the Open Championship cut by one stroke. He said he stopped looking at FedEx Cup (currently 110th) and money (117th) lists because he was so far down and “it was so depressing.”

Hence he decided to adjust his outlook in Canada the week after the Open, when he was 134th in points. He said he and his caddie decided to “enjoy ourselves.” That and an improved short game have made a difference. He said the love of competition “gets lost” during a bad patch.

“Enjoying the process out here,” he said of his new mindset. “Just enjoying myself, be it good times or bad, trying to learn through the bad. There’s really no down side to playing the Tour.”

Watney said he also had to improve his time management after his first child, daughter Barbara, was born in March. Laying around and watching television, he said, is “not in the cards anymore.”

He co-leads the Wyndham in greens in regulation and ranks 16th in putting average. He said he hasn’t had a better three-day putting stretch all season.

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2. THINKING OF DAD, WINNING: Brad Fritsch was leading when he finished but said his thoughts were more on his father Brian, who is playing in the Carlton Yacht and Golf Club championship in Ottawa.

“Right now I’m concerned with whether my dad won the club championship today because he’s never won,” said Fritsch, in his second Tour season. “He’s finished second way too many times.”

Unfortunately for Fritsch, his dad lost a lead Saturday and didn’t win. As for his own situation, Fritsch is currently ranked 163rd in FedEx Cup points and likely needs at least a two-way tie for second to make his first playoff appearance. He needs at least a two-way tie for third to finish in the top 125 in money and retain his exempt status for next season.

“I’m going to try my best,” said Fritsch, 36, who has two top 10s this year. “That’s what I tell my mom and dad every time–try my best. Whatever happens, happens.”

Fritsch, who holed a 75-yard wedge shot for an eagle 2 on No. 8 Saturday, played at Campbell University in North Carolina. He said he chose that school because it was the only one of 40 he wrote to to let him walk on. He said he never broke par before college.

He wore his Campbell colors in the third round and asked the first-tee announcer to say he went to college in North Carolina.

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3. SIMPSON, SNEDEKER AND THE RYDER CUP: Webb Simpson, who finished 15th on the U.S. Ryder Cup points, improved his chances of being one of captain Tom Watson’s three picks Sept. 2 with his play so far this week. He’s three shots off the lead at 11 under.

“I’ve got to put together (three) good weeks to show (Watson) I’m ready to play and I’m good enough to be a pick,” said the 2012 U.S. Open champion, who played on the last Ryder Cup team and the last two Presidents Cup teams.

Not that Simpson hasn’t done some subtle lobbying with Watson.

“I texted with him a little bit telling him how bad I want to make the team and that these next three weeks really mean a lot to me. I feel like if I put together three really good tournaments, it will be tough for him not to pick me.”

Simpson, Snedeker, Keegan Bradley and Ryan Moore are among the leading captain's pick candidates. Snedeker keeps trending upward. He had just 16 rounds in the 60s in his first 19 starts this season but has 13 such rounds in his last four starts, including the Wyndham.

The Ryder Cup carrot is a motivator. He said Watson told him that it’s simple, that “you’ve got to play good golf.”

“The Ryder Cup pressure is way more than what we feel out here,” Snedeker said. “Tomorrow is a great audition for me. I need to shoot a good low number.”

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4. ACES ARE WILD: Thirteen-time PGA Tour winner David Toms and Tour rookie Kevin Foley each made a hole-in-one with a 5-iron in the third round. Toms aced the 199-yard seventh and Foley the 195-yard 12th.

Foley, 27, hit a cut shot that landed about hole-high just right of the pin, ran up a hill and rolled back down and broke a few feet before disappearing. Moments after his second competitive ace, he signed the ball and gave it to a girl about 5 years old.

Tom originally pulled out a 4-iron but changed after an incoming wind settled down. He said he “crushed” the 5-iron shot that landed around the fringe and rolled in like a putt.

The aces means two randomly drawn individuals (Dayna Douglas of Hamburg, Ark., and Barbara Boster of Crestview, Fla.) will have their mortgages paid for a year as part of the Quicken Loans Hole-In-One Sweepstakes. Eight registered fans have been beneficiaries of that program since it began in late June.

“I’m glad I could help somebody out,” said Foley, who best finish in 14 Tour starts this season is T-35.

“I hope they’ll send me a thank-you note,” cracked Toms, whose previous Tour aces came during 2001 PGA Championship victory and at the 2005 Memorial while playing with host Jack Nicklaus in Nicklaus’ second-to-last Tour event. “What a great thing. Whoever the fan is is very happy with my shot.”

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5. SHORT SHOTS: Even pros think of possible mulligans. Take Bill Haas. He’s three shots off the lead after a pair of 66s in which he had a bad hole each day. He double-bogeyed No. 18 Friday and made a bogey on the par-5 fifth, probably the course’s easiest hole, in the third round. “If I can somehow do those two holes over again ... I’m right there in the mix if not leading,” Haas said. ... Jacobson birdied Nos. 3-6 and one-putted on the first six holes. He continually drove the ball in play, leading to 15 greens in regulation and plenty of chances. Assessing the logjam, he said, “You’ve got to go out there and keep firing like I did today.” ... Since the tournament returned to Sedgefield in 2008, a 54-hole leader or co-leader has won five of six times. ... Slocum needs to finish at least third to ensure his seventh trip to the FedEx playoffs. The four-time winner look for his first Tour top 10 since he won the 2010 McGladrey Classic. That’s a span of 90 tournaments. ... Defending champion Patrick Reed is nine strokes off the lead. ... J.J. Henry, tied for 36th in the tournament, needs to rally to continue a streak. He’s one of eight players to have finished in the top 125 of earners each year since the start of 2001. He’s currently 139th on the money list.