Nick Watney took a few peeks at the leaderboard, and heard the echo of raucous cheering at regular intervals in the distance as Tiger Woods was commencing his last-round charge. Watney, starting two groups behind Woods, knew it was going to take a very special kind of round Sunday to win the $6.1 million US CIMB Classic.
Hole-by-hole, birdie after birdie, the 31-year-old American could feel the momentum gathering pace. At the 13th hole, when he moved into a tie for first spot, he started to believe he could win the tournament in Malaysia. After the 14th hole, he started honing in on a rare round of 59.
With 11 birdies in 17 holes, including six on the back nine, he went to the par-4 18th needing a birdie for a 59, but decided he was playing only for the win. He made a bogey at the last, still good enough for a course record round of 10-under 61 and a 22-under-par total 262 to hold off defending champion Bo Van Pelt and Robert Garrigus by one shot to claim the $1.3 million first prize.
"I saw Tiger got off to a good start, so I wasn't really thinking about winning when I teed off," said Watney, who started the day four shots off the pace and in a share of seventh place. "But the round sort of built momentum and things just kept getting better and better. I'm thrilled to have come away with the win."
After five birdies on the first seven holes, Woods finished with a 63 to tie for fourth at 19 under with Chris Kirk and Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge.
And by the time Woods finished — the 14-time major winner opened with three birdies and had eight in all, including at the 16th and 17th to put pressure on the leaders — all the attention was on Watney.
"I really wanted to finish strong ... but winning the tournament was more important than a 59 for me," said Watney, who drove into the left rough, failed to reach the green with his approach and left his long birdie pitch just short of the putting surface.
Watney won the FedEx Cup opener at Bethpage Black in August for his fifth official PGA Tour title. Sunday's victory won't add to his PGA Tour record — the Malaysian tournament which is co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour won't become a full-fledged PGA Tour event until next year when the tour begins its new season in October after the FedEx Cup. But the experience of winning his first title in Asia will help.
Van Pelt and Garrigus each carded 66 after starting the round tied for the lead.
Needing a birdie on 18 to force a playoff, Van Pelt saved par after hitting into a greenside bunker. On Saturday, needing a closing birdie for a 59, he made a double bogey for a 62.
The players were allowed to lift, clean and place their balls in the fairways for the last three rounds because the course was soaked by overnight tropical storms.
The heat, humidity and rain on the par-71 course combined to make it a unique win for Watney and his support team.
Treatment for heatstroke
He needed his wife, Amber, to carry his bag for the last hole of the first round when caddy Chad Reynolds needed treatment for heatstroke Thursday. Watney used a local caddie Friday and Reynolds came back for the weekend. Amber, the daughter of seasoned tour caddy Rusty Uresti, will get credit for one hole on the bag at short notice.
Watney said he didn't even think about winning until he walked to the 13th tee with a share of the lead on the last day.
He opened with two birdies, adding more at the sixth, eighth and ninth to turn in 30. He birdied three straight from the 11th to take the outright lead at 20 under from Van Pelt.
Watney stretched the margin with another three consecutive birdies from the 15th, including a 25-foot putt from the edge of the green at the 16th. He settled for a birdie on the par-5 17th after missing an eagle putt, then ran into trouble on 18 when he found the rough off the tee and appeared to mis-hit his second shot.
"So the 59 went out the window right there," he said. "I was more concerned with just winning the tournament."
Five players have shot 59 in official PGA Tour events. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval in the 1999 Bob Hope Invitational, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic and Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic.
Japan's Ryo Ishikawa has the lowest round on a major tour, shooting a 12-under 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.
Woods knew he'd need something in the low 60s to have any chance of winning in his first trip back to The Mines since he won the individual and team titles at the 1999 World Cup.
"I needed to get to 20-plus," said Woods, who signalled his intentions with a massive drive on the 358-yard first hole. "That was the goal score at the end of the day. Looks like Nick went ahead and put it to us."
The crowd following Woods and 2010 champion Ben Crane was the biggest yet at the tournament and the loud trampling of long grass around the tee box as spectators clamoured for a glimpse and the regular noise sometimes disturbed the 14-major champion to the point where he had to stop after addressing the ball — twice before his approach at the 9th and again on the 10th tee — and reset himself.
Woods lamented some wasted opportunities in his third round that put him just about out of contention.
"I had to shoot 9-under today to have any kind of chance — yesterday's last nine holes, that's what put me in a spot where I couldn't win the championship."
Sweden's Carl Petterson had 10 birdies — narrowly missing an eagle putt on the 17th — and a bogey in a round of 62 to finish seventh at 18 under. Scott Piercy also had a 62 to tie for 10th.
Woods will face top-ranked Rory McIlroy, who finished second Sunday in the BMW Masters in Shanghai, in a one-on-one match in China on Monday.
"We'll both probably be a little bit tired," Woods said. "But we're going to try and put on a good show, shoot a low round and have a little bit of fun."