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With his worst season in 5 years behind him, Watney making strides toward turning it around

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LOS ANGELES — One month into the new year, Nick Watney already is putting last year out of his mind.

Watney was hampered early by a back injury that forced him out of the final round at Doral, and the birth of his first child the following week.

But those should have been merely speed bumps. He didn't need to elaborate on a season that produced only two top 10s and knocked him out of the FedEx Cup playoffs after one event.

"I didn't play well. I putted awful all year," Watney said. "It was just kind of a snowball thing — putting bad and then you try to hit it closer and you miss short-side, you make bogeys.

"Then you try to make birdies and you make more bogeys. I thought about it, and for whatever reason, I played poorly last year and I know that. I know what I needed to work on. I'm doing it. And so the more distance I can put between myself and last year, the better."

Watney tied for seventh in San Diego, just two shots out of the playoff, and he was runner-up at Pebble Beach where he opened with four straight birdies until making enough mistakes for Brandt Snedeker to pull away.

His five career victories include a World Golf Championship and a FedEx Cup playoff event at Bethpage Black. He hasn't missed a major in six years, but much like Snedeker, he started the year with no status in the big events. He fell out of the top 100 for the first time in six years.

Most painful for Watney? Watching the HSBC Champions in Shanghai on TV.

"I hate not being able to compete," Watney said. "I hate not being qualified for tournaments. I want to play against the best guys, so it's very motivating."

His recent run moved him to No. 75 in the world.

Watney's daughter, Harper, was at Pebble Beach. He is living in Austin, Texas, though plans to spend half the year in Las Vegas.


PRESSEL HONORED: Morgan Pressel has been selected to receive the Charlie Bartlett Award from the Golf Writers Association of America, given to a professional for unselfish contributions to the betterment of society.

She is being honored for the Morgan Pressel Foundation that is aimed at fighting breast cancer, which claimed her mother, Kathryn Krickstein.

Pressel has two victories, including a major, and earned just under $6 million in her career. In six years, her foundation has raised more than $3.4 million. It also has led to Kathryn Krickstein Mammovan, which operates out of Boca Raton Regional Hospital in Florida and travels throughout the county to provide affordable breast exams for those who might not be able to afford it.

Two years ago, the hospital's Lynn Cancer Institute opened the Morgan Pressel Center for Cancer Genetics to study individual risks for developing certain cancers with hereditary links.

"Carrying out the mission of the Morgan Pressel Foundation is a team effort, and an honor like this would not be possible without the hard work of many, especially my family and my community at St. Andrews Country Club," Pressel said of her home course in Boca Raton. "The work that my foundation does in the area of breast cancer is very meaningful to me on a deep, personal level."

She will be honored April 8 in Augusta, Georgia, at the GWAA's annual awards dinner.

PHOTO: Nick Watney hits out of a bunker onto the second green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Nick Watney hits out of a bunker onto the second green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)


STRENGTH OF FIELD: Most of the international stars have stayed away from America so far this year. Rory McIlroy won't play on the PGA Tour until next week in the Honda Classic. Adam Scott just had a daughter and won't play until Doral. Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer have yet to play in America this year.

It doesn't help that the Match Play Championship has moved to the end of April in San Francisco, instead of being the anchor event on the West Coast Swing.

Even so, the West Coast hasn't suffered as much as predicted.

All six PGA Tour events have had a stronger field than the previous year, based on the ranking points awarded to the winner. Both Hawaii events had their strongest field ratings since 2011. Pebble Beach had its strongest rating since 2010, and that includes the year Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson played in 2012.

The Northern Trust Open is one event that was hurt by the move of Match Play because several players typically came over a week early before the first World Golf Championship of the year. Even without those players, Riviera is expected to be the strongest field of all West Coast events.


EARNING HIS WAY: The Northern Trust Open added a wrinkle to qualifying this year.

It added a Monday qualifying spot to a college player who competed at Riviera alongside an alum. Among the pairing was Jordan Spieth playing with Kramer Hickok, interesting because the 21-year-old Spieth said they used to be roommates.

The start of the Northern Trust Open Collegiate Showcase was Will Zalatoris of Wake Forest, the only player out of 14 in college to break par. The 18-year-old freshman shot a 67 to earn a spot in the field this week.

Zalatoris finished five shots ahead of George Cunningham (Arizona). He will be making his first PGA Tour start.

"I'm really not even nervous about it. I'm only 18 and I'm learning," Zalatoris said. I'm here to play golf, not think about winning the tournament. It's my first PGA Tour event, so I'll see how my game stands up and we'll go from there."

Zalatoris won the U.S. Junior Amateur, the Texas State Amateur and the Trans-Miss Championship last year.

"Will played as beautifully as I've seen any tour player play all year," said Haas, high praise considering Haas won the Humana Challenge. "He could have given me three a side and taken me. We were out there for fun, and he was all business, so it was great to see him get the job done."


DIVOTS: The PGA Tour is bringing its "Live At" production to perhaps the most interesting par-4 in golf — the 10th at Riviera during the Northern Trust Open. Coverage of the 10th and the par-3 16th holes at Riviera can be viewed at http://www.pgatour.com. ... Former Riviera winner Bill Haas is at the Northern Trust Open and hopeful of staying all four days — not because of his game, but because his wife is in South Carolina expecting their second child. She is due Friday. ... Fred Couples is making his 33rd appearance at the Northern Trust Open.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Americans have won the past 11 times at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the longest streak of any PGA Tour event.


FINAL WORD: "It's when the game is the most fun." — Nick Watney on being in contention.

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