Kyle Stanley led by seven shots early in the final round Sunday, and he still had a four-shot lead as he stood on the 18th tee at Torrey Pines. Just like that, he went from being anointed a rising star to a meltdown that ranks among the most shocking in golf.
Snedeker, in the group ahead of him, hit wedge to a foot for birdie and a 67, then drove up to the media tent for an interview as the runner-up. He arrived in time to watch Stanley spin a wedge into the water, then three-putt from 45 feet for a triple-bogey 8 and a 74.
Two playoff holes later, both were in shock.
Snedeker’s tee shot hopped over the green and would have gone into a canyon except that it bounced off a television tower. He chipped to about 5 feet and made the par. Stanley three-putted again from just outside 45 feet, his five-foot par putt catching the right lip.
“It’s just crazy,” Snedeker said. “To get my mind around what happened the last 30 minutes is pretty hard to do right now. My heart is out to Kyle. I feel bad for him to have to go through this.”
Stanley, whose power, poise and polish was on display all week, was reduced to tears. His eyes were glassy and his lip quivered as he tried to answer questions, a sad ending to an otherwise spectacular week along the Pacific bluffs.
“It’s not a hard golf hole,” Stanley said. “I could probably play it a thousand times and never make an 8.”
But he did Sunday, a painful lesson for the 24-year-old out of Clemson.
Snedeker is making a habit of these comebacks. In all three of his PGA Tour wins, he trailed by at least five shots going into the last round. At Hilton Head last year, he came from six shots back and wound up beating Luke Donald in a playoff.
This one was handed to him.
“This one I kind of backed into,” Snedeker said. “You never like winning a tournament that way. But you do like winning.”
Stanley birdied his first two holes – Snedeker was nine behind at that point – and led by six shots at the turn until he started dropping shots from the sand. Even so, he made three straight par putts, starting with a 12-footer on the 14th, to seemingly regain control.
This loss, however, put him in the wrong kind of company.
It was reminiscent of Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie, who made triple bogey on the last hole of the 1999 British Open and lost in a playoff; of Robert Garrigus, who made triple bogey on the last hole of the St. Jude Classic in 2010 and lost in a playoff; and even of Frank Lickliter at Torrey Pines, who three-putted from 12 feet on the 17th hole in 2001 to make triple bogey in the third playoff hole in losing to Phil Mickelson.
“I know I’ll be back,” Stanley said, pausing to allow the words to come out of his mouth. “It’s tough to swallow right now.”
Stanley stood over a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole with a four-shot lead, and it was matter of staying upright for the next 20 minutes to collect his first PGA Tour win.
If only it were that simple.
Snedeker made his tap-in birdie to finish at 16-under 272. Stanley hit a 300-yard drive and kept it simple by laying up.
Then, he fell apart.
His sand wedge had too much spin and did not get high enough on the green, spinning quickly down the slope and off the green, and it slowly tumbled down the bank and into the water. Stanley showed little emotion, took his drop in the first cut to eliminate some of the spin, and his fifth shot was safely on the back of the green, some 45 feet away.
With a putt down into the bowl of the green, he came up about 3 1/2 feet short, then missed it well to the left for a triple-bogey 8. He had to sign for a 74, without breaking the pencil, then head back to the 18th for a playoff.
Snedeker caught a minor break on the first extra hole when his second shot stopped directly in front of a loose divot. He managed to remove it without moving the ball, then hit sand wedge to 3 feet for birdie. Stanley went for the green in two this time. He went just over the green and chipped down to the same spot as Snedeker and matched his birdie.
It ended on the par-3 16th in a playoff, when again Snedeker looked to be in trouble and wound up a winner.
John Rollins had 235 yards to the green on the 18th hole, two shots behind Snedeker, two shots clear of fourth place. He elected to lay up and wound up with a par. It gave him a 71, and he finished alone in third at 14-under 274.
John Huh, the 21-year-old rookie out of Q-school, had a buried lie in a bunker, a duffed chip, a chip-in for birdie and an approach that nearly went over the cliff, all in the first four holes. He birdied the last for a 74, and while he was never a factor in the final group, he at least tied for sixth and earned a spot next week in the Phoenix Open.
But this was a two-man show at the end.
And for the longest time on a day filled with sunshine and hang gliders, it was a one-man show.
Staked to a five-shot lead, Stanley didn’t let anyone close to him until early on the back nine.
His opening tee shot showed some nerves, as the ball went well right and into a torrey pine, settling on the cart path. His approach was conservative, away from the bunker. From there, he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt down the hill, and Stanley was off and running. He holed a 7-foot birdie putt on the next hole, and when Rollins made bogey on No. 3, the lead was up to seven shots.
Only when Snedeker began to creep up the board did the lead finally get under six shots, and then Stanley made it hard on himself.
Starting with the par-3 eighth hole, he was in five bunkers on the next seven holes, and three of them led to bogeys. He hit a splendid shot from the sand on the par-3 11th, only to miss a three-foot par putt.
From a fairway bunker on the 14th, he came up well short of the green to protect from going long and into the hazard and chipped weakly to just outside 12 feet. He saved par, made a five-foot putt to save par from a bunker on the 15th and completed a long two-putt par on the 16th with an eight-footer. And when Snedeker made his only bogey ahead of him on the 17th, Stanley looked to be in the clear.
How quickly it all changed.
“He’s going to have a tough night,” Snedeker said. “But he’s going to be better for it.”