SAN FRANCISCO — Nick Watney impressed his father, and the entire golfing world on Thursday during his first round 69 at the U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club.
Playing the 17th hole — his ninth of the day after starting on the hole No. 9 — and sitting in a tie for 71st at the championship, the Davis High graduate stood in the fairway 190 yards from the pin. And with one immaculate swing made a double eagle-two on the par 5 using a 5-iron that suddenly got him into the hunt and into a tie for eighth.
Talk about a jump start. It was only the third albatross in U.S. Open history, although the United States Golf Association admits that records are incomplete from earlier years. The double eagle is less common than a hole-in-one and even more helpful as it gives a player 3-under for that hole.
“The shot on 17 was something I’ll always remember,” Watney said after his historic round. “I can’t really remember what I was feeling. It was kind of disbelief and joy. It was really exciting.”
Perhaps equally exciting was Watney’s 1-under 69 total for the day, which was good enough to put him in a five-way tie for second place with the likes of past Open champions Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell and two others. The group is three shots behind leader Michael Thompson, who fired a 4-under 66 in the morning at Olympic.
Watney’s father Brent felt very fortunate to see his son make history:
“In two days my wife and I have seen a perfect game (Giants’ Matt Cain last night) and an albatross. Those are two very rare events. And in a major (championship)!”
Because his son started on the easier stretch of the course, holes No. 9-18, Brent Watney was also cautious knowing that Nick still had the meat of the course ahead of him: holes 1-6.
“It’s hard to relax,” Brent Watney said. “It’s elation without relaxation.”
Nick Watney pared all six of those holes, before carding a birdie on No. 7. He also had previously chipped in for a birdie on No. 10.
The former Blue Devil standout was set to start his second round on Friday morning at 7:59 a.m. and this time will take on the difficult opening stretch first.
“It’s just a brutal stretch,” Watney said. “Trying to get the ball in play as much as possible. Pars are really good.”
Watney, who played in college at Fresno State and got his start playing at Davis Muni as a young golfer is appreciative of starting strong in the major that is less than 100 miles from his hometown.
“It’s very special to be playing here in NorCal,” Watney said. “And I was here to watch in ’98 (the last U.S. Open in S.F.). And it was pretty exciting.”
It will be even more special if Watney can stay in the hunt and have a chance to win the Open championship on Sunday afternoon. The prospect of winning his first major championship so close to home is an exhilarating one.
“I couldn’t even imagine,” Watney said on Wednesday. “It would be way too exciting. It would be a dream come true.”
Watney is tied with another native Californian, Woods, for second place.
The former world No. 1 is a player that Watney looks up to and respects, but he is careful not to lose his competitive edge when he discusses the three-time U.S. Open champ.
“His game seems to be coming into form,” Watney said on Wednesday. “It’s always fun to watch and see what happens with him-but I’m just gonna try to beat him.”
Woods, who is in a trio with Phil Mickelson (+6) and Bubba Watson (+8), who both struggled. They were schedule to take the course at 1:18 p.m. on Friday.
— Garrett Johnston is a sports writer and video producer based in Sacramento. He has been covering the PGA Tour for the past seven years, and has followed Watney closely for the past two.