LAS VEGAS (AP)Nick Watney was running out of chances and had to make some tough decisions. The math was the easy part. It was asking himself if he still had the desire.
Watney was coming off the worst of his 16 full seasons on the PGA Tour, making only six cuts in 25 events with his best finish a tie for 34th on his own ball.
The first decision was whether to take a one-time exemption for top 50 in career money. He was at No. 50, just $68,324 ahead of Keegan Bradley. Not too far behind were Louis Oosthuizen, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau.
”It turned out to be an easy decision,” he said. ”If I fall to 51, I can’t use it.”
As for the desire?
”I had a bit of a talk with myself. Do I want do this anymore? Do I still enjoy myself? Yes, I do,” Watney said. ”When I haven’t had good seasons, I make the FedEx Cup (postseason) barely. With this one year, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to play some golf. It was definitely a wake-up call.
”The goal was to use it and play well and not have to think about it again. So far, so good.”
After a tie for 30th to start the new season – decent compared with last year – Watney started well and closed with a 65 in the Sanderson Farms Championship to tie for second. He fell back a little last week at the TPC Summerlin, but it still was three cuts in three starts.
It’s the first time in six years he started a new season by making three straight cuts.
Watney said he started to see some improvement in his game in the summer, when he decided to return to Butch Harmon, his longtime coach. Harmon doesn’t travel much, but Watney was more than willing to see him in Las Vegas.
”I played my best golf with him. He’s seen me hit a ton of balls. He’s like family,” Watney said. ”I called, he answered and he said, `Come on.’ I just told him my career was flashing before my eyes and I want to make a run at it.”
Watney is taking two weeks off and plans to end the year with four straight events, starting with the Bermuda Championship. A strong finish could make the rest of the season less stressful.
IT PAYS TO PLAY
The PGA Tour doesn’t pay players who miss the cut. Now it will at least pay them for simply playing the minimum numbers of tournaments.
In a series of announcements sent to players on Monday, the PGA Tour announced a new bonus program called ”Play 15.” Any member who competes in at least 15 tournaments will receive $50,000 as a performance bonus.
That’s essentially means $50,000 for everyone. A year ago, the top 150 players in the FedEx Cup each played at least 15 tournaments except for Garrick Higgo of South Africa, who didn’t become a member until he won in South Carolina in June with only two months left in the season.
The top 10 in the FedEx Cup averaged just under 24 tournaments, not including the Ryder Cup or the Olympics, which count.
More money is also coming to The Players Championship. Already the richest event in golf, the purse goes up next March to at least $20 million. The exact amount will be decided at the policy board meeting in November. Even at $20 million, first place would earn $3.6 million.
The tour also said the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua was increasing its purse to $8 million, with the winner getting $1,444,000. The tour estimates last place for the winners-only field will get $100,000.
FURYK AND FLUFF
Jim Furyk and caddie Mike ”Fluff” Cowan have been together for 22 years, which included 16 wins, a U.S. Open victory and a FedEx Cup title.
While it wasn’t a slow start in the spring of 1999, it was memorable. Their first tournament working together was The Masters, about two months after Cowan was fired by Tiger Woods. The caddie apparently had put on a little weight during his idle time at home.
They played a practice round on the Saturday before in unseasonably hot weather.
”Fluff hadn’t been out walking and hadn’t been on the course,” Furyk said. ”He was like 10 pounds heavier at the time and he had to be 50 yards behind me walking up that hill on 8.”
Furyk said Cowan set the bag down and started wheezing and breathing heavily.
”I was staring at that big mustache and I go, `Buddy, I’m going to tell you right now, if it comes down to you dying and mouth-to-mouth, it’s going to be a 50-50 call,”’ Furyk said. And he started laughing. He doubled over. He goes, `We’re going to get along just fine.”’
Padraig Harrington went from thinking his best golf would be good enough to thinking he also would need help from others not playing well. Some of that was age. A big part of it for the Irishman was Rory McIlroy winning by eight shots at Congressional with a record score in the 2011 U.S. Open.
”Certainly when Rory came out, you stand there and just, how can you beat this guy?” Harrington said. ”That puts you then under stress. The greatest place you can be is going on the golf course thinking that your stuff is good enough and you’re not worried about everybody else.”
To illustrate his point, he said given the exact same conditions and same golf course, he would tend to score better against a field of Irish club pros than PGA Tour players.
”The relative act is against the better players, you don’t feel like you can make any errors,” he said.
”As I said, I definitely think Rory was a big change in that sense. How could you compete against that?” he said. ”And I know Tiger was there, but maybe I was at my peak with Tiger and maybe I had a strategy with Tiger that was very much about doing my own thing. But certainly the game jumped a lot with Rory and it was hard to follow.”
Matthew Wolff is a combined 43-under par in his past two appearances in the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas. He has been runner-up both times and earned $1,386,000. … The European Tour plans a five-week swing through the Middle East. It has added a tournament in Ras Al Khaimah, the sixth-largest city in the United Arab Emirates. It will be played Feb. 3-6, the dates that previously belonged to the Saudi International. … Steven Alkers qualified for the Boeing Classic, tied for seventh, and has finished in the top 10 in the next five events to keep playing. Alkers has earned just over $450,000. … Phil Mickelson crossed $1 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour Champions by winning three of his four starts. He won twice that much with his victory in the PGA Championship.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Players from the top 50 in the world ranking have won the past six PGA Tour events, the longest such streak since the summer of 2018.
”I don’t know if I’ve been known long enough to answer that.” – Patrick Cantlay, when asked if it was nice to be known.
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports