Nick Watney passes toughest course

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- On an oddly perfect day on the Monterey Peninsula, Sacramento native Nick Watney looked mighty comfortable. Playing Spyglass Hill, historically the most difficult of the three courses that make up the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Watney, 30, joked with friends in the crowd, lingered for long looks at the front-nine Pacific views and eased his way to a 6-under 66, tied for low round of the day at Spyglass and 3 strokes shy of the leaders.

"I played well. I'm happy with that score on this golf course," said Watney, who is 3 shots behind Dustin Johnson, Danny Lee and Charlie Wi. "I'm kind of in between things, and I'm not driving the ball that well, but I'm in a position where I feel like I can compete. That's all I could ask for coming into this week."

Early finishers at Spyglass marveled at the conditions.

"I was in the rough a lot, but I didn't have many bad lies out there," said the four-time PGA Tour winner whose first birdie of the day came on No. 4 after his drive leaked right, over the cart path and into the trees. "To hit that poor of a tee shot, think I might drop a stroke, and then make birdie was huge. It takes some scrambling to go low here no matter how nice it is. Six under isn't incredibly low, but I'll take it."

Watney, who shot 75 at Spyglass last year, added that pins could have been tougher.

"If this was a round without amateurs, they could have made the course very difficult," he said.

But the 2003 Fresno State graduate wasn't complaining following his round, which featured six birdies and his first eagle of the 2012 season.

Among the fans donning San Francisco Giants and 49ers gear to support starting pitcher Matt Cain and head football coach Jim Harbaugh -- both competing as celebrity amateurs in the event -- was a sea of red-clad Fresno State Bulldogs fans in town to see Watney.

"This is as close as I get to home all year," Watney said after signing dozens of autographs. "To play well here, to get this start, feels really good."

On Friday, Watney heads to Monterey Peninsula Country Club, and Saturday, he'll play Pebble Beach Golf Links before the field is cut.

"I'm not leading, but I feel like I'm up there since I started on the course I think is the hardest."

And now, Watney can just forget about the round and prepare for the next two days.

"It's kind of a relief to play this format," said Watney, who shares low-Spyglass honors with Kevin Na. "I don't have to dwell on things, or worry about some of those bad drives. You just move on to the next course."

Watching the scoreboard is still a part of the routine, though.

"I can't compare myself directly to that many guys because we're spread out," he said. "But I've played well at Monterey. And I see the numbers are really low at Pebble. As long as the weather stays nice, like it's supposed to, I like where I am."

The local boy seems to be making himself right at home.

Sarah Turcotte is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a former editor for ESPN The Magazine. You can find her online archives here.