Nick Watney always felt the first playoff event for the FedEx Cup was the most important. A good performance in The Barclays could set up a player to reach the Tour Championship, have a mathematical chance at the $10 million bonus and qualify for all the majors next year.
This turned out even better.
Watney now has more than just 10 million reasons to be excited.
Not only did his three-shot victory in The Barclays on Sunday put him atop the FedEx Cup standings and assure that he'll have a good shot at golf's largest payoff, Watney suddenly is in the conversation to play in an event that doesn't pay anything at all — the Ryder Cup.
U.S. captain Davis Love III makes his four wild-card selections after next week's Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are likely to be two of the picks. Based on what happened over four days at Bethpage Black, the other two now are up in the air.
"I don't want to be lobbying. It's his decision," Watney said. "The best way to enter the conversation is to play your way into the conversation."
That's just what he did.
Watney was two shots behind Sergio Garcia when the final round began. He was two shots behind through six holes after he three-putted for bogey from 40 feet. And just like the outlook on his year, it all changed so quickly.
Watney had a two-putt birdie on the par-5 seventh. On the par-3 eighth, with a dangerous pin at the front of the green with a shaved bank toward the water, he took a little off a 7-iron to play it safe and rolled in a bending, 30-foot birdie putt. Garcia tried to hammer an 8-iron, turned it too much into a bunker and had to scramble for bogey. That gave Watney the lead, and he stretched it to three shots on the 10th hole with a gorgeous approach into 4 feet as Garcia three-putted for bogey.
No one got closer than two shots the rest of the way. Watney hit 8-iron to 10 feet for birdie on the 14th, and he added a birdie on the 18th that didn't matter except for the score. He closed with a 2-under 69 and finished on 10-under 278.
"It's been not quite the year I wanted," Watney said. "But this really makes it all forgotten. Winning a tournament is hard, but winning out here and against this field was very, very difficult. I'm kind of still on a high right now."
Love isn't thinking about only Watney, however.
Brandt Snedeker, a winner at Torrey Pines and a contender at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, battled to the end and finished with two big putts for a 70 that put him alone in second place. Garcia, who bogeyed the last hole for a 75, tied for third with Dustin Johnson, who had a 68.
"Ryder Cup is definitely on my mind," Snedeker said. "But I'm not letting it affect the way I play. Try to win every golf tournament. It gives me more motivation to do it, and if I do that, I know I will make the decision easy for them.
"Davis has an extremely difficult choice with a bunch of guys who did not play well enough over the last two years to be on the team. You can't go wrong with any of them. I think that it's certainly helped everybody who played well this week."
The top three names on the leaderboard: Watney, Snedeker, Johnson. All of them are being considered as a Ryder Cup pick. Watney is the newcomer to the list based on his win at The Barclays, the strongest full field of the year except for the majors.
"I'm thinking much more now than I was coming in," he said. "Coming in here, I didn't deserve to be in the conversation because I had not played my way in. Someone told me that Davis said he wanted a hot player, and we still have a week to go. But like I said, I'd love to be on the team. But I'm not really concerned with it just because it's out of my control."
Tiger Woods, six shots behind at the start of the day, never made a move. He alternated between bogeys and birdies until the sixth hole, and his round imploded on the back nine with a three-putt double bogey on the 12th, a poor wedge that led to bogey on the par-5 13th, and a tee shot on the par-3 14th that sailed over the green and one-hopped against the gallery. He closed with a 76 and tied for 38th.
Garcia already wrapped up his spot in the Ryder Cup for Europe based on his win last week in North Carolina, his first on the PGA Tour in four years. He was going after his second straight win, but he showed signs of a struggle early. He missed back-to-back birdie chances from around 8 feet and missed greens from the fairway.
Watney, meanwhile, didn't miss a green until the 16th hole when he had a three-shot lead.
"I hit a couple bad shots at the wrong moments," Garcia said. "And unfortunately, I just wasn't feeling comfortable."
He had one issue with the New York fans on the 17th, a tough par 3 where club selection was difficult, and Garcia heard it from them when he took his time picking a club. That didn't bother him, and he was pleased about his two strong weeks that signal a good trend in his game.
And he enjoyed watching Watney, a pleasant Californian known as "Rube," after the character in "Major League 2" for being so respectful to his elders.
"At the end of the round on 18, I did obviously congratulate him and wish that he made the team," Garcia said.
None of this would have been possible if Watney had not changed his attitude, to quit getting down on himself when his score wasn't what he thought it should be. And his longtime friend Sam Reeves — the same friend who introduced Watney to Butch Harmon — arranged for Watney to meet with Darrell Kestner, the head pro at Deepdale, for a putting lesson. Watney was sitting back to far on his heels, and they worked on the setup.
"It paid off," Watney said, adding that he made more putts at Bethpage than he had all year.
While it was effectively a two-man race for much of the day, there was plenty at stake in the FedEx Cup.
Only the top 100 players advance to the Deutsche Bank for the second of four playoff events. The biggest move belonged to Graham DeLaet of Canada, who started the week at No. 106 and was right on the bubble going into the final round. After back-to-back bogeys early in the round, he rallied for a Sunday-best 65, including a 9-iron he holed for eagle on the 15th. DeLaet moved up to No. 44.
"I guess a lot of people think there's too much volatility in it, but it was in my favor," DeLaet said. "If you can have one really good event, you can catapult yourself up. And now I feel I have a chance to get into the Tour Championship, where this morning I was just hoping to play next week."
It was a good day for another Canadian — David Hearn. Playing with Woods, he closed with a 71 and moved from No. 108 to No. 67. The other three from outside the top 100 who moved in were Jonas Blixt, Tommy Gainey and Jason Day, who closed with a 66.