Hawk's Nest: Snedeker a stand-up guy, but among the elite?


THE BALL IS going farther, the clubface is getting hotter – and my handicap keeps going up. Maybe the computer knew I was a lousy 3 and decided to invoke some GHIN-related provision that would help prevent me from losing $120 every weekend. In any case, I’m more convinced than ever that a guy playing off low single digits is really a 6 on his way to the ATM.

Especially at my club, where the 13s are liable to shoot a 75 on you. Now more than ever, it’s a low-net world ... and I just applied for citizenship. Back when I hit my 6-iron 155 yards, lost one ball a month and could shoot a 73 with my putter’s consent, I also lost five ways on any given Sunday.

This way is much easier. A little pride can take you a long way, but a total absence of it can make you some decent money.

Speaking of decent money …

IT WAS PRO-AM Wednesday at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course – the perfect time and place to work a practice green full of Tour players. A tall guy in an old-school visor walked up and asked if I had a few minutes. Of course, I said to Brandt Snedeker, although I had no idea why he’d come out of his putting stance and want a word with me.

Situations like this usually arise because a guy didn’t like something I’d written or said. Snedeker was annoyed about a spot I’d done seven weeks earlier for a radio show – he’d beaten Kyle Stanley in a playoff at Torrey Pines after Stanley triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole, then arrived in Scottsdale and heard me yapping about how Stanley had given the tournament away.

What specifically bothered Sneds was my assessment that he was a good player, although not likely to become a top-tier performer by PGA Tour standards. I didn’t see him reaching double digits in career victories or claiming a couple of major titles. There was a slight difference of opinion on what I’d actually said that Monday back in January, which is fairly common, but it didn’t come into play here.

All that mattered was that a Tour pro had a gripe over the way I’d done my job, and I wanted to resolve it. My strongest lasting impression of the conversation was that Snedeker couldn’t quite summon a level of anger sufficient enough to drive home his point. Clearly, this was a kindhearted dude who wasn’t fond of taking exception to an honest appraisal, certainly not to the point where it would escalate into a confrontation.

And it didn’t. Other than replying, “Look, Brandt, I just don’t think you’re gonna be a superstar,” which didn’t come out of my mouth, there wasn’t much I could (or wanted) to say. We eventually agreed to disagree, although I did go out of my way to clarify Snedeker’s point that I was “ripping” him for beating Stanley, which simply wasn’t the case.

Never in my life have I ripped anyone for winning a golf tournament. I’ve never ripped anyone who didn’t present themselves to me as a piece of paper, with instructions to use both hands. And when I’ve seen Snedeker at events since, which has been only a couple of times, I’ve walked over, said “hello” and wished him luck.

Now he’s the 2012 FedEx Cup champion – a worthy winner in that he has played excellent golf for an extended period of time, since the British Open, actually. Three high finishes (sixth or better) earned him a captain’s pick from U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Davis Love III. His victory at the Tour Championship obviously validates the selection.

Maybe he’ll prove me wrong on my career assessment, which wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. Maybe this is as good as it gets for him, which has nothing to do with my opinion of the guy. Not only do I like Snedeker, I appreciate his willingness to leave his comfort zone that day at Innisbrook and address the issue man to man. From conflict, a strong positive impression was formed.

WHAT SCARES ME about the points reset before the Tour Championship is that the farfetched scenario – no matter how far or whom it might fetch – is even possible when determining the overall winner. Snedeker certainly played his way to the grand prize, but with a little bit of give and take from the projections board, we could have ended up with Ryan Moore, who was squarely in the hunt until faltering down the stretch Sunday.

Moore had four top-10 finishes during the regular season, his best being a T-4 at Bay Hill. He came to East Lake off back-to-back T-10s at the Deutsche Bank and BMW, which is good golf, if not the stuff FedEx champs should be made of. Most alarmingly, Moore played in just one major (PGA) all year. He wasn’t in the field at any of the three WGCs, meaning he failed to qualify at six of the eight biggest tournaments on the schedule.

Commissioner Tim Finchem can talk all he wants about how the postseason accomplishes its mission, but it’s nothing more than necktie nonsense. This isn’t a season-long process by any rational stretch. The bottom-heavy nature of the current playoff format simply has to be tweaked before the concept can achieve an appropriate level of competitive credibility.

If the St. Louis Cardinals lead the New York Yankees 12-3 in Game 7 of the World Series, before the Yanks score five runs in the eighth and ninth to lose 12-8, they’re still popping champagne corks and hoisting a trophy in the Cards’ clubhouse. The solution in our game is fairly simple: if you insist on a reset prior to East Lake, don’t flatten the landscape so that it looks like Iowa.

I’m not asking for Colorado, just a little topography to distinguish those who have climbed to the highest altitude.

IT’S OLD NEWS by now, for sure, but any storyline featuring Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and claims of intimidation can’t get too dated. Greg Norman’s Tiger-fears-Rory theory had a bit of revisionist history in it, but the real afterword on the matter has nothing to do with 15-year intervals or whether Jack passed it to Greg.

Woods shot a 66 while playing with the Irish Lad in the opening round at East Lake, then ballooned to a 73 when the two were separated in the second round. As for Tiger and Rory looking like best buds in recent weeks – giggling on walks down the fairway together and doing a post-round interview as a tandem – I don’t think it has anything to do with a kindler, gentler Woods passing the torch.

I’m more inclined to believe the persistent whispers that McIlrich is about to sign a huge endorsement deal with Nike. If the two are on the verge of becoming Swoosh bunkmates, Red Shirt had to have been told of the impending deal. Perhaps Nike even asked Woods for his willingness to share the commercial stage with golf’s newest superstar.

That makes more sense than the notion that a 14-time major champion walks to the first tee shaking in his work boots. Norman has been poking a stick in Tiger’s cage for well over a year now – at least since Woods moved to the same Jupiter Island, Fla., neighborhood – and Woods still hasn’t dropped in for a cup of coffee at Chateau du Shark.

Norman’s candor should be greatly appreciated, his opinion respected, but there are times when a man’s outspokenness leaves you to wonder about a motive. As for McIlroy’s handling of the situation, he couldn’t have done a better job of defusing the issue with some sarcastic humor during his pre-tournament news conference last week. No question, the Irish Lad is learning how to play the game.

EVERYBODY LOVES the Ryder Cup. The transition from individual stroke play to a team-match format creates can’t-miss competitive drama and tons of compelling strategic buzz in the cafeteria line. I won’t be in the team room, but I’ve seen enough to know which U.S. matchups I like. Even if the captain couldn’t care less what I think.

Snedeker and Dustin Johnson (fourball): Johnson’s partnership with Phil Mickelson didn’t work at Celtic Manor, as the two were waxed in both matches together. I pair Big D with the hottest putter on my squad in an attempt to get him some early confidence mojo.

Mickelson and Keegan Bradley (fourball): A no-brainer if there is one. Lefty’s overall upside includes a willingness to pair up with a Ryder Cup rookie, and Bradley loves Philly Mick. The kid is long, steady and ultra-emotional.

Mickelson comes off a weak performance in Wales but shined with Anthony Kim (remember him?) at Valhalla in ’08.

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson (foursomes): A successful tandem at last November’s Presidents Cup, as Simpson carried Bubba through some rough patches. Watson’s jumpy, risk-taking disposition works with this guy, and besides, you don’t mess with positive recent history.

Woods and Steve Stricker (foursomes): I’m going back to the scrapbook here. Woods has driven the ball exceptionally well this year, and though Stricker hasn’t played to his highest standard of late, he still makes putts, which has earned him Tiger’s highest level of trust. I can’t leave ’em together if they lose early, but this pairing definitely is worth another try.