Watney emerging as regular on leaderboard

FRESNO —Fresnans have watched Nick Watney grow from promising college freshman to first-team All-American to a PGA Tour winner.

So it’s no surprise around here that he gave his uncle, Fresno State coach Mike Watney, a plug in the media room after claiming his second PGA Tour victory with a stirring comeback at the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.

Starting the day five shots behind John Rollins and two behind Camilo Villegas, Watney outplayed both down the stretch with birdies on two of his final three holes to close with a 4-under 68 and claim a one-shot win.

His 11-under 69-69-71-68—277 earned Watney $954,000 and put him in second place in the FedEx Cup standings. He has earned $1,108,093 in three tournaments this season.

And he did it with strong putting, a weakness last year.

Watney made a 40-foot putt from the fringe on the 16th hole, then birdied the par-5 No. 18 after his 60-foot eagle putt over a ridge settled 2 feet, 9 inches from the hole.

The final, winning putt was the first time Watney had led the tournament, and he gave a sedate fist-pump, as befitting his low-key personality. Tiger Woods he is not, theatrically.

“If you’re going to lead for one hole, this is the time to do it,” he said.

The words of Mike Watney resonated in Nick Watney as he battled Rollins and Villegas on Sunday.

“He always told me and our team that winning a golf tournament is never easy,” Watney said in a post-match news conference.

Later, he told The Bee: “My uncle would tell me, there’s always going to be adversity. I made two bogeys in a row Saturday)and was able to right the ship. And today was never easy.

“It’s a special feeling to be under that pressure and pull it off.” Rollins led Watney by three shots with five holes to play, and was still two up on the tee at the par-3 No. 16.

But Rollins’ tee shot found a bunker, leading to bogey.

Watney then figured he could gain a stroke by getting his 40-foot breaker near the hole for par. Instead, it sank into the hole for birdie — a two-shot swing.

“That’s not a putt you expect to make,” he said. “I was trying to get down in two. I saw it had a decent line, then thought it might go down. It dropped in.” Watney and Rollins both birdied No. 17, then Watney’s bold second shot on 18, with a hybrid club from 235 yards, cleared a pond and settled on the top shelf of the green. Rollins, meanwhile, was in a greenside bunker, from which he made par.

A 60-footer and a 21/2 footer later, Watney was champion for the second time. He won at New Orleans in 2007.

“This one feels like vindication,” Watney said. “At New Orleans I came out of nowhere. This week I played well all week. I feel I know how to win.