ATLANTA – They say money talks, but on a picture-perfect day at East Lake it wasn’t the $10 million FedEx Cup fortune, or Tour Championship title or even vindication for a Ryder Cup pick some questioned that steadied Brandt Snedeker.
For a player who admittedly wears his emotions for the world to judge it was just four letters that calmed him when the winds swirled and a world-class field closed in around him – T-U-C-K.
Snedeker’s caddie Scott Vail had the letters written across his bucket hat, a tribute for Tucker Anderson, the son of Snedeker’s swing coach Todd Anderson, who was involved in a near-fatal car crash on Sept. 7 in Pensacola, Fla.
On Sunday morning before he set out for the most important loop of his professional life Snedeker drove the 12 miles from East Lake to the Shepard Center, where Tucker has been in a responsive coma and recovering since Tuesday. There was a fist bump, a wink, tears and more perspective than all the game’s sports psychologists could ever hope to dole out.
“I think it took Brandt’s mind off the golf to be honest with you,” Vail said. “I was glad he went. I definitely think it took his mind off the golf. It just puts things into perspective.”
With his head down and with one of his best driving performances of the year (seven of 14 fairways) Snedeker pulled clear of Justin Rose with a 9-footer for birdie at No. 3 and never looked up, or at a leaderboard, on his way to the ultimate double – the Tour Championship title and FedEx Cup neatly wrapped up with a closing 68.
A player who at times has made the game look difficult was turned Teflon by the clarity of perspective and a putter that, at least to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, made him a no-brainer pick.
Thanks to a hot putter, Snedeker made the turn two strokes clear despite a rinsed tee shot at the sixth that led to a double bogey. What else? He one-putted eight of his first 10 holes but it was a chip-in birdie at the 17th that secured his status as the newest member of the $10 million club.
His birdie on the penultimate hole lifted him four clear of Rose and not even the demons of missed opportunities past or the wrenching emotion of his visit earlier in the day could spoil that victory lap.
“It was tough to leave (Tucker) this morning. To know him as well as I do and to see him like that was hard. I cried when I left,” Snedeker said. “That’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”
As an added bonus, Snedeker’s command performance delivered a level of prearranged simplicity that had been missing from the finale in recent years. At fifth on the FedEx Cup points list entering the week all he needed to do was win and start figuring out how many ways one can split $10 million.
Not that the FedEx Cup waters were completely clear of muddy math when points leader Rory McIlroy played his first seven holes in 4 over. The possibility of a victory by Rose or Ryan Moore, who tied Snedeker for the lead with a 10-footer for birdie at the 15th hole, was enough to keep the Tour statisticians busy grinding out all manner of projections and scenarios, but Snedeker mercifully nixed the drama before it reached a confusing crescendo.
“He’s so mentally tough,” said Rose, who closed with 71, his first over-par card of the week, to finish alone in second place three strokes back. “To do what he did today is impressive. There’s a different kind of pressure playing for $10 million.”
Snedeker also had the benefit of a leaderboard that, outside of Moore, featured mostly one-way traffic – that is to say south.
Tiger Woods, second in the FedEx Cup points race to begin the week, played his first six holes on Sunday in 4 over. Some figured he blew his Tour Championship chances with a second-round 73, but that Sunday 72 didn’t exactly endear itself to the leaderboard.
“I fought very hard just to shoot what I shot on the last couple of days, but obviously it was not enough,” said Woods, whose tie for eighth was his worst showing at the finale since 2003. “I just didn’t have it this weekend.”
On Wednesday at East Lake Tour commissioner Tim Finchem figured next year’s move to a split-calendar schedule would bring a refreshing conclusion to the season. Thanks to Woods’ pedestrian playoff run it seems as if nearly all 2012 questions were answered.
Unless he adds a fall start, which seems unlikely, Woods will finish the season with three Tour victories and no majors, leaving McIlroy – four tilts and his second major – the clubhouse leader for the Player of the Year hardware.
Forgive the Ulsterman, however, if he left his first Tour Championship feeling a tad pencil-whipped.
When McIlroy bolted Crooked Stick following his second consecutive playoff victory he was 3,232 points clear of No. 2 Woods, and 3,357 ahead of Snedeker. Before he picked up his courtesy car in Atlanta that lead had been reset to 250 and 900, respectively. Let the record show McIlroy finished second in the FedEx Cup race – just 1,273 points back.
Call it the math of diminishing returns, but the world No. 1 took the high road following his round.
“It’s just the way it is,” said McIlroy, who tied for 10th in his first Tour Championship after a closing 74. “I’m not going to criticize the format. You have to play well every week.”
Snedeker, who finished runner-up at the playoff opener in New York and sixth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, couldn’t agree more. The sixth-year Tour player has waited a long time for the patience and peace of mind to prove that he’s a world-class player.
A day that began with tears ended with previously unimaginable cheers, not to mention a hefty payday.
“Life is all about timing,” Snedeker smiled.