Watney holds off Choi charge

Nick Watney has fought off a fierce, back-nine, final-round charge by KJ Choi to win the AT&T National in Pennsylvania.

Nick Watney, perhaps the fastest American on the move right now, fought off a fierce back-nine, final-round charge by South Korean star KJ Choi to win the AT&T National on Sunday.

Watney, the overnight leader with flamboyant US compatriot Rickie Fowler, managed only a single birdie on the back nine, but, more important, he did not allow the pressure exerted on him by Choi to make any critical mistakes.

And while Fowler was falling out of the battle with an early bogey and double bogey on the first four holes, Watney marched on to win by two shots on a hot and sweaty day at the Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania with his closing four-under 66 and 13-under 267 total.

Fowler, who seemed to be the gallery favourite when he, Watney and Choi teed off – a good few fans were wearing his trade-mark, bright orange outfits and flat-brimmed caps and calling for “Rickeee” – could only close with a 74 to finish tied for 13th.

“With 27 holes to go, I was just trying to play my way back in to the tournament,” Watney told the media after his victory.

“For some reason, the hole (at the 15th hole) just got bigger for me. I’m overjoyed.

“KJ kept coming and coming. It makes it that much more rewarding. I’m very, very proud of the way I was able to finish.”

One shot back overnight, tenacious Choi eventually caught Watney when he nailed a 30-foot birdie putt at the 14th to put both players on 12-under with four to play.

But as has too often happened when he has reeled in and caught his final round quarry, the luckless South Korean stumbled with a double-bogey after he found a bunker at the 15th where Watney had a two shot swing and restored his two-shot lead with a par to put himself back on track to his fourth win on the PGA Tour.

“Nick Watney just played too well today,” lamented Choi who shot a three-under 67. “He played like a champion, so there was really nothing that I could do. He is a wonderful player.”

Watney, winner of the World Golf Championship event at Doral in March, joins Mark Wilson as the Tour’s only other double winner so far this year this year.

He has also claimed eight top-10 finishes, more than any other player on the US Tour, and Sunday’s $1.16 million winner’s purse took his season earnings over $4 million and for the first time put him firmly on top of the FedEx Cup and US Money winner’s lists and hoisted him into the No 10 spot on the World Rankings list.

“He’s found out he’s a great player this year,” said Australian Adam Scott, who shot a closing 68 to tie for third, four shots back, with Americans Jeff Overton (67) and Charles Howell III (66).

“He’s a tremendously hard worker and he’s now reaping the rewards.

Watney, who grew up in Dixon in California, soared into contention on Saturday when he fired a course record 62 highlighted by a blistering back nine 27 that included only 11 putts.

He said he had changed to a new putter this week after not being able to even “putt the ball in the ocean last week in Hartford.”

The top 10 leaderboard

267 Nick Watney 70 69 62 66
269 K J Choi (Kor) 69 64 69 67
271 Adam Scott (Aus) 66 71 66 68, Jeff Overton 71 65 68 67, Charles Howell III 68 68 69 66
272 Chris Stroud 70 68 66 68, Robert Allenby (Aus) 71 68 68 65
273 Chris Kirk 70 71 63 69, Bryce Molder 69 67 68 69, Webb Simpson 69 70 64 70