MIAMI, March 14 – Nick Watney arrived at the $8.5 million Cadillac Championship one of the hottest players in golf, if not the most famous, and he departed with his first World Golf Championships title.With four consecutive top-10 finishes under his belt this year, Watney deserved to be among the favourites for the elite WGC event at Doral’s Blue Monster, where he finished a close second two years ago.
The 29-year-old may not have been a name on everyone’s lips, but he soon will be if he keeps playing like he did on Sunday.
The unassuming Californian started the final round two strokes behind overnight leader Dustin Johnson, but emerged from the pack to clinch a well-deserved two-stroke victory.
"It’s the biggest day of my golfing career," Watney said after an emphatic birdie at the difficult final hole to shoot 67 and finish at 16-under-par 272, just his third victory on the US PGA Tour.
"This means so much and I’m very, very excited. Top-10 finishes are nice but winning is what counts out here and that’s how you’re measured.
"To win against this field, it’s a huge honour. I’m very proud I was able to mentally and physically execute down the stretch under pressure. I’ll store that in my memory bank."
Watney boosted his bank balance by $1.4 million but, as he indicated, the increase in his confidence will be priceless.
In 2009, Watney was millimetres from being in a play-off with Phil Mickelson here, only to watch his chip shot at the final hole stop on the edge of the cup.
And just last August he had a three-stroke lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship, only to blow up with a demoralising 81.
"Just the let-down and disappointment of the way I performed that day came into my head," Watney admitted.
Johnson shot 71 for second place on 14-under, with Dane Anders Hansen (67) and Italian Francesco Molinari (69) another stroke back in a tie for third.
Johnson refused to be too disappointed, pointing the finger at luck, or lack thereof, on the greens as the cause of his defeat.
"I played really well," he said. "I just couldn’t get it in the hole with the putter. I hit a lot of great putts (but) they just were not going in.
"Nick is a good friend of mine. I told him walking off that if I was going to lose to someone, I was glad it was him.
"I didn’t give him the tournament. He earned it."
Tiger Woods was never in contention, but a closing 66, equal to the day’s best score, lifted him to equal 10th, eight strokes off the pace.
Woods sounded upbeat afterwards, although it will take more than one good round to convince his critics that he is on the way back to his former greatness.
"It’s definitely getting better, no doubt," Woods said. "As the week progressed, I hit a lot of good shots but then I would get sidetracked for a little bit and didn’t really know what the fix was a couple of times.
"Today I hit a lot of good shots and when I did mishit one I knew what the fix was right away and got right back on my run of hitting good shots again.
"My trajectory is becoming better, the shapes of my shots are getting tighter.
"The driver is still not quite there but I’m hitting it flush again, which is good."