Watney Wins Zurich For 1st PGA Title

Monday, April 23rd 2007, 7:31 am
By: News On 6

AVONDALE, La. (AP) _ Nick Watney offered a slight wave to the applauding crowd as he walked away from his par putt on the 17th hole, then took a deep breath, his cheeks puffing as he exhaled.

There was only one hole to go for his first career PGA triumph, not to mention a check for nearly $1.1 million.

He was nervous, he admitted later, but not that nervous.

``I loved being in this position,'' Watney said. ``That's one of the funnest things about it is to be in position and pull it off and conquer your nerves.''

Five strokes later, the lanky, clean-cut Californian tapped in for another par on No. 18, smiled broadly as he raised his arms, then hugged his caddie. The 25-year-old, now in his third year on the tour, had prolonged a recent pattern of first-time winners at the Zurich Classic.

Watney closed with a 3-under 69 on Sunday for a three-stroke victory over Ken Duke. The winner had a 15-under 273 total on the TPC Louisiana.

``I'm living a dream right now,'' Watney said, wearing Mardi Gras beads as winners in New Orleans traditionally do. ``I've played in close to the last group sometimes, and I've seen guys go through it. But it's definitely more fun to actually do it. I'm trying to soak it all in.''

Duke, a 38-year-old who also was seeking his first victory, shot a 70.

Watney's highest previous finish was fifth in two tournaments last year, and lost the lead to Duke when he missed a 3-foot par putt on the par-4 10th. He bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 11th and went in front for good with a birdie on the par-3 14th.

On the 14th, Duke's tee shot landed short and left of the green, his chip went 7 feet past the pin and he missed the par putt coming back to fall two shots behind. That was after Watney's tee shot with a 4-iron had landed 8 feet from the pin.

Watney was unflappable during the final four holes, missing the fairway only once off the tee and hitting every green in regulation. Duke struggled just to keep pace.

``I knew if I could get it to one coming to 18 I thought I had a chance, but he had two on me, and he played smart, and that's what you've got to do,'' Duke said.

Watney's celebration was relatively subdued, and he didn't expect a wild night in the French Quarter, either. This, after all, was a guy who eschewed New Orleans' renowned restaurants Saturday night in favor of a Subway sandwich.

``I'm pretty low key. I probably won't live it up too much,'' he said. ``I'll definitely call my parents.''

Watney had never before teed off with the lead in the final round of a PGA Tour event, and he hadn't slept as well as he usually does, waking around 5:30 a.m.

He bogeyed Nos. 3 and 4, but then holed the shot of the tournament _ a 132-yard approach shot for an eagle on the par-4 fifth _ to pull back into a tie for the lead.

``I was definitely nervous to start out, but it's a good thing,'' Watney said. ``I mean, any time you hole a shot there's a little luck involved, so it was definitely my week. I'm proud that I was able to handle it.''

Watney became the fifth first-time winner in the last six years at New Orleans' annual PGA Tour event, joining Chris Couch (2006), Tim Petrovic (2005), Steve Flesch (2003) and K.J. Choi (2002). All of them won at English Turn except Watney and Petrovic, the only other winner at the TPC Louisiana, which hosted its first PGA Tour event in 2005, only months before it was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The course, its fairways flooded because of drain clogging debris that included 2,000 fallen trees, was closed for 10 months for $2 million in repairs to 30 acres of damaged turf.

But New Orleans seems to be kind to players who've never won, regardless of the course, in part because some the tour's top players often skip the tournament here.

Heading into the final round, 13-time winner Mark Calcavecchia was the only player in the top five with a previous victory. He started the day only three shots back, and appeared primed to close in on the lead when his second shot on the par-5 seventh hole landed just off the fringe. He botched his chip, however, leaving himself a 35-foot birdie putt that he narrowly missed.

While the other players in his group putted out, Calcavecchia stood on the front edge of the green, staring back at the seventh fairway and shaking his head.

He missed another birdie putt on No. 8 and two bogeys on the back nine put him out of contention. He shot a 71 to tie for fifth with Bubba Watson and Chris Stroud at 10 under.

Tour rookie Anthony Kim had the best round of the day, a 65 _ one shot off the course record that fellow rookie Kyle Reifers set Thursday. The round of nine birdies and two bogeys left the 21-year-old Californian tied for third with John Mallinger at 11 under.

``I was so far back I really didn't have anything to lose, and I just fired at some pins and it worked out,'' Kim said. ``My goal is to win out here, and until I do that, I'm just going to keep plugging away.''

If Kim is still looking for that first PGA triumph next year, he might want to make sure he returns to New Orleans.