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Nick Watney calls it “an amazing kind of lifeline.” After finishing 204th in the FedEx Cup Standings last season, failing even to make the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, Watney is playing this season on a one-time-only use of a top-50 PGA Tour career money-list exemption. Watney’s rank on the career money list entering the 2021-22 season? No. 50. In other words, it was now or never to use it.
“To have that was incredible,” he said.
Watney, 40, is making the most of it in the early going of the new season. He followed up a respectable T-29 at the season-opening Fortinet Championship with a tie for second Sunday at the Sanderson Farms Championship, shooting a final-round, bogey-free 65 to finish with a 72-hole total of 21-under 267, a stroke behind winner Sam Burns.
“This is why I play golf,” Watney said, “to be nervous and pull it off.”
Watney once was among the top players in the game, cracking the top 10 in the world in 2011 and winning five times between 2007 and 2012. But he’s endured a victory drought, 3,325 days and counting, since the 2012 Barclays and hit rock bottom last season when he missed 13 cuts in a row and 18 in a span of 19 starts to plummet to No. 660 in the world entering the Sanderson Farms Championship.
It's been 3,325 days since Nick Watney last won on TOUR. pic.twitter.com/jjq4a6EePQ
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 3, 2021
“Last year there were some low times that kind of, I asked myself some really tough questions,” he said. “You know, do I want to keep playing? Do I enjoy this?”
Watney’s soul searching cut to the bone, eventually getting around to this realization: “I’ve played long enough that I don’t really know anything else, you know?”
All that time on the road with nothing to show for his efforts made leaving his family unbearable. That had to be factored into the equation, too. So, what was the answer to the tough question of whether he still loved the nomadic life that is the PGA Tour?
“I really do,” he said.
He decided to go back to the grindstone. Watney began working with his longtime instructor Butch Harmon to try to recapture the magic that made him one of the best in the game. Watney may not have gone home with the Sanderson Farms signature rooster trophy, but he departed with a confidence boost – his first top-10 finish since a T-10 at the 2019 Safeway Championship and best result since tying for second at the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship – that could be the difference as he tries to make the most of his one-time career money-list exemption.
“I think this proves to myself that what I’m working on is the right thing,” he said. “There was definitely some lean times, especially last year, but I mean that’s, I’m not trying to think about that any more, I’m trying to continue to get better and this was a great step this week.”