Wins for first time when on top after 3 rounds
By Mike Blum
For much of his career as a tour player, weekends have not been an especially enjoyable time for Brandt Snedeker, particularly a few in which he was on or near the top of a leader board.
During Snedeker’s six years on the PGA Tour, he has established a precedent of playing very well in the final round when he is well behind the leader, but hasn’t fared nearly as well when leading or close to the lead going to the final day.
Coming into the recent Tour Championship at East Lake, Snedeker had won three times on the PGA Tour, with all three victories coming in tournaments in which he trailed by at least five strokes going to the final round.
Snedeker had either held the 54-hole lead or had a share of it just twice in his career, and failed to win on both occasions. He was overtaken by Tiger Woods in San Diego in 2007, and suffered a major meltdown in Phoenix two years ago, closing with a 78 to plummet all the way to 43rd.
Twice on major championship stages, Snedeker struggled late when in position to win. He closed with a 77 in difficult conditions in the 2008 Masters after beginning the day just two off the lead and tied for 3rd.
Snedeker opened this year’s British Open with scores of 66-64 to claim the 36-hole lead, but shot 73-74 on the weekend and after finished T3.
So much for history.
With a huge potential payday on the line, Snedeker won for the first time as a front runner, firing a final round 68 to win the 2012 Tour Championship by three strokes over Justin Rose.
“I’m sure 90 percent of you all probably didn’t pick me to win today because I’ve never done it before,” Snedeker said in his post-victory interview session. “And I don’t blame you.
“But today was my day to go out and prove a bunch of people wrong; that I can play with the lead. I can handle pressure. I’ve done it my whole career in junior golf, high school golf, college golf, even on the Nationwide Tour, I’ve played with the lead and won.
“I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of doing it when the pressure was on and I did it today.”
On a day when only one of the other 11 players within five strokes of the lead broke 70, Snedeker carded a 68 that included a number of wayward shots, including one ball in the water, one ball that caromed off a sky box and another that landed in a sky box and stayed there.
Snedeker began the final round tied with Rose at 8-under, with Rory McIlroy, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Woods, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Luke Donald among those within five of the lead.
Other than Donald, who closed with a 67 to tie for 3rd, none of Snedeker’s serious challengers shot under par in breezy conditions the final day. Snedeker was never out of the lead, moving to the front by himself after a birdie at the third.
Ryan Moore, who was two back of Snedeker and Rose going to the final round, briefly claimed a share of the lead with Snedeker after back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15. But Snedeker birdied the par-5 15th minutes after Moore caught him.
Moore bogeyed the final three holes to fall back into 3rd place, with Snedeker stretching his lead to four with an improbable birdie at the 17th. He flared his tee shot right, as far away from the water left of the fairway as he was able, with his ball bouncing off the corporate hospitality boxes that line that side of the hole.
After just clearing the bunker short of the green with his second shot, Snedeker chipped in for birdie, enabling him to easily survive an errant tee shot on the long par-3 18th that sailed into a sky box left of the green.
Snedker’s closing bogey left him with a winning total of 10-under 270, three ahead of playing partner Rose, who never got anything going with a final round 71. Moore closed with a 70 to tie Donald at 7-under, with Donald carding three birdies on the last six holes, including a rare 2 at the 18th, to make a late move up the leader board.
Masters champion Watson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson tied for 5th at 5-under, with Simpson’s 66 matching the low round of the day. Furyk plodded his way to a 72 and was 7th at 3-under, carding 16 pars and two bogeys in his final round.
Woods played his first six holes in 4-over, splashing his tee shot on the par-3 sixth for a double bogey that ended any hopes of a comeback. He tied for 8th at 2-under with Hunter Mahan, who birdied five of his last seven holes for a 66.
McIlroy, who won three of his previous four starts including the PGA Championship and consecutive Playoffs events, also found the water on the sixth and finished with a 74 to tie for 10th at 1-under.
Like Woods and McIlroy, Snedeker also watched as his tee shot on the sixth went to a watery grave, but that was his only stumble of the day until his closing bogey.
“I did the same thing on Thursday,” Snedeker said of his tee shot on the sixth. “That being said, I was three-over after six holes on Thursday and played the rest of the week 13-under. So I knew I could come back from that, which was great.”
Despite the double bogey, Snedeker still led Rose and Moore by a shot. Moore birdied the sixth just in front of McIlroy, with Rose taking a second straight bogey after hitting his tee shot at the sixth in the greenside bunker.
Snedeker rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on the eighth to increase his lead to two, but Moore and Rose both birdied the par-3 11th to close within one of the leader. Snedeker went back ahead by two with an 18-footer for birdie at the 13th, but Moore answered at the 14th.
After Moore birdied the 15th to pull even for the first time, Snedeker reached the par-5 in two and two-putted for birdie to reclaim the outright lead for good. Moore struggled from that point, with Snedeker clinching his win with his chip-in at 17.
Snedeker is regarded as one of the game’s finest putters and the stats verify that contention. He is an ordinary ball striker by comparison to his peers, ranking right around 100th on the PGA Tour in driving distance, fairways hit and greens in regulation.
But Snedeker is No. 1 on tour in strokes gained putting and No. 2 in total putting, accounting for his third place standing in birdies per round. Snedeker led the Tour Championship field in putting and birdies (20), giving himself opportunities by finishing second in fairways hit (37 of 56), one behind Moore.
Snedeker recovered from his slow start on Thursday, playing his final 12 holes in 5-under for a 68, two behind co-leaders Rose and Woods. Four bogeys and four birdies the second day, one on the sixth, left Snedeker five behind Furyk after 36, with Furyk carding a 64, the low round of the day.
In all three of his victories, Snedeker went low the final day to erase deficits of five shots at Greensboro in 2007 (63), six shots at Hilton Head last year (64) and seven shots this year in San Diego (67).
At East Lake, Snedeker did his come-from-behind thing on Saturday, posting a spotless 64 that had nothing but 3s and 4s on his card.
That moved him into a tie for the lead, and brought on the questions regarding his inability to hold the few leads he’s had going to the final round.
“I’m a jumpy guy to say the least. I think you all have noticed that,” Snedeker said to the media after his 64. “So my biggest thing is trying to stay patient under the gun, and realizing that not every shot is a make or break shot on Sunday.”
One way that Snedeker kept his mind focused on what he was doing the final day was by avoiding looking at leader boards.
“I didn’t look at the scoreboard all day. I had no clue where I was or what I was doing. My only goal today was shoot as low as I possibly could, and that’s what I did.
“No good comes from me looking at the leader board. I get too amped up. I get too complacent if I’m ahead, or trying to push too much if I’m behind. So I try to play the same way I would if I had a five-shot lead or a five-shot deficit.”
Snedeker took home $1.44 million for his victory and earned the $10 million bonus by finishing first in the final FedExCup standings.
After a season highlighted by his playoff victory in San Diego and tie for 3rd in the British Open, Snedeker was 19th in the points standings coming into the playoffs.
Thanks to finishing 2nd in the Barclays and 6th in the Deutsche Bank Championship, Snedeker moved up to 5th in the standings, making him one of five players who were guaranteed a FedExCup title with a win at East Lake.
Both Rose and Moore were too far down the list to win the FedExCup event with a victory in the Tour Championship, and once McIlroy and Woods fell off the pace Sunday, the spotlight was left to three players of lower visibility.
Snedeker provided some late entertainment with his play at 17 and 18, giving the large galleries something to remember, even if the tournament did not have a down-to-the-last-hole finish.