LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The answer to the trivia question sounds like something out of Tim Finchem’s worst nightmare:
How many FedEx Cup champions have advanced to the Tour Championship the year after they won?
For whatever reason – there are probably 10 million, from injury to poor form to complacency – no player has accomplished the feat.
Well, that’s true for three more days, at least.
That’s because Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, has not only positioned himself to return to Atlanta, but also to capture the biggest prize in golf – again. On Thursday, he shot a bogey-free, 8-under 63 to take a one-shot lead over Zach Johnson at the BMW Championship.
“I realize these days don’t happen very often,” he said afterward, “so when I do have these days, I try to go as low as I possibly can because it does make a big difference when I look back on it.”
A big difference, indeed. Ninth in points entering the third leg of these playoffs, Snedeker is now projected to move to No. 1. Last year, he was No. 5 in the standings heading into East Lake, but any player inside the top five can win the FedEx Cup with a victory at the season finale.
In playoff parlance, Snedeker was one of golf’s top seeds in the regular season but was sputtering toward the playoffs. He was wearing down, fast, and it showed. That was partly because of his intense late-season schedule: Before the Tour went dark last week, he had played seven events in a row, and 11 of the past 14. In the five starts after his victory in Canada, he hadn’t finished better than 33rd with two missed cuts.
Snedeker, a two-time winner this season, admitted that it’s “always a constant struggle” to match up his sublime putting with solid ball-striking. But for one day, at least, they were in perfect harmony.
“I think it helped,” he said of the bye week. “Physically, I felt great. Mentally, it’s just good to get refreshed, kind of step away from the game, see what you’ve been doing poorly, come up with a new game plan for the last two weeks, and realize that I’ve still had a great year – and it can be an even better year depending on these last two weeks.”
It wasn’t an entirely relaxing week off, however. Snedeker spent four days in Alabama tending to his mother, Candy, who was hospitalized following complications from surgery. Snedeker reported that everything was OK on that front, and over the weekend he returned to work with swing coach Todd Anderson.
Neither could have seen this kind of performance coming with the flat stick.
After an inauspicious start with three scratchy pars, Snedeker ran off seven consecutive birdies at Conway Farms. He wasn’t picky, either, rolling in three putts from the fringe, and requiring only eight swipes during the first 10 holes. Six of those seven putts were between 5 and 18 feet, the outlier being the 37-footer from the back of the 17th green.
“Watching Snedeker pouring it in from all over the place is always fun,” said Steve Stricker, who shot 66 in the same group. “He’s probably the best putter I’ve ever seen. The guy makes it, or looks like he’s going to make it, from just about everywhere.”
Even Snedeker was surprised by his seven birdies in a row, the longest such streak on the 2013 Tour: “At that point I was just thinking, Get me on the green and I’ll make it.”
Now, it’s increasingly likely that Snedeker could ride his red-hot putter all the way to another FedEx Cup title.