Thoughts of critically injured friend steady Snedeker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2012, 12:28 am

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.

Photos: Tour Championship

McIlroy, Woods also earn big playoff paydays

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.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

Getty Images

McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

Getty Images

Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.