Timely win turns Watney’s season around

Two wins and six other top-10 finishes in 2011 put Nick Watney atop the points list and made him the man to catch as the PGA Tour’s playoff season began a year ago. Any momentum disappeared, though, in the four-tournament postseason, Watney quickly getting passed, mediocre play ending his title chances.

The opposite has happened this year. After a slow start to his season, Watney put together four solid days at Bethpage Black, winning The Barclays Sunday for the fifth tour victory of his career, and first in 2012.

Once again, Watney finds himself leading the FedEx Cup points list, which determines the tour’s season champion after four playoff events. But since he has already won the first, he’ll come to the second – the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, which starts Friday – in much better shape than 12 months ago, when he had two wins, not one.

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Timing, Watney acknowledges, really is everything. He came to The Barclays last week with his FedEx Cup future uncertain. Now he’s in first place, guaranteed a spot all the way through the Tour Championship.

“As far as getting into stuff next year and positioning yourself for the FedEx Cup, [The Barclays] has proven to be maybe the biggest of the four, just because you play well here, you can move so far,” Watney said. “I’m just very, very happy right now. It’s been not quite the year I would have wanted, but this really makes it all forgotten.”

Funny how quickly fortunes can turn. It took Watney 10 tries to finish in the top 10 of a stroke-play event this year (he wasn’t outside the top 10 for his first five starts in 2011), a combination, he said, of inconsistent form and a consistently bad attitude.

The first part was helped by a few putting tips he received last week from Long Island club professional Darrell Kestner, who noticed Watney’s weight was too far back on his heels. Good advice, and immediately taken to heart: For the week, Watney holed nearly 450 feet worth of putts, second-best in the field.

The attitude part was trickier. Golf is a mental game, and Watney’s on-course thoughts for most of this year haven’t been positive. Collectively, it’s had a negative effect.

“My attitude, you know, my caddie [Chad Reynolds] said that — sometimes I ask him, ‘Where do I lose the most shots to the top players?’ And he said, without a doubt, it’s my attitude,” Watney said. “Just getting down, lingering on bad things, and then making more mistakes.

“If this isn’t proof enough to myself that staying positive is a good thing, then I don’t know what could be.”

Someone else noticed a difference. Like Watney, this player also struggled during much of the season until recently, and has also been known to get down on himself.

“Nick played very nicely, so I was happy to see him win,” said Sergio Garcia, whose attempt to win in consecutive weeks was derailed by Watney’s final-round 69 Sunday. “He’s not only a great player but a very nice guy. I would have loved to give him a better fight than I did.”

Garcia’s victory at the Wyndham Championship two weeks ago cemented his inclusion on the European Ryder Cup team. Might Watney’s win do the same? Eight of the 12 who will make up the United States team already have earned automatic spots; the remaining four will be selected by captain Davis Love next Tuesday, the day after the Deutsche Bank Championship concludes.

Steve Stricker figures to be a lock for one of the four captain’s picks, and many think Jim Furyk is, too. Others in the discussion include Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, and Dustin Johnson. All five represented the US at the Ryder Cup two years ago in Wales.

Watney did not; he has only been on one US team, at last year’s Presidents Cup, when he went 2-1-1, including a singles win over K.J. Choi. Now that he’s won The Barclays, is he thinking about making the team?

“I’m thinking much more now than I was coming in, because you know, coming in here, I didn’t deserve to be in the conversation, because I had not played my way in,” Watney said. “Someone told me that Davis said he wanted a hot player, and we still have a week to go.

“I’d love to be on the team. But I’m not really concerned with it, just because it’s out of my control.”

What remains in his control is how he plays going forward, starting this week at TPC Boston, on a course and in a tournament where he has had no success: Five missed cuts, and ties for 61st, 33d, and 46th in eight appearances.

But Watney wasn’t expecting to do much last week, either. He ended up doing plenty, moving from 49th to first in the points race.

“I wanted to have a good week, and to be No. 1 now is amazing,” Watney said. “I think Tiger [Woods] has three wins [and is No. 3 on the points list]. So, is it just? Is it right? I don’t know. I’m happy to be No. 1, and I’m really excited for the three weeks coming up.”