HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – It took more than three years, but Brandt Snedeker is back in the winner’s circle. And in impressive fashion.
Snedeker earned a spot in a playoff with Luke Donald (who would have taken over as No. 1 in the world with a victory) behind nine fourth-round birdies and clinched the Heritage title with a critical two-putt on the final hole of the sudden-death play-off.
Snedeker started the day six shots behind Donald, but a front-nine 30 (6 under) and a gutsy birdie putt on No. 18 in regulation helped the Vanderbilt grad put pressure on Donald, who still had 11 holes to play.
Two hours later, Snedeker and Donald traded birdies on the first hole of the playoff and both scampered for pars on the second hole at the par-3 17th.
Snedeker and Donald both put their drives in the middle of the fairway on the final playoff hole (on No. 18), but Donald buried his approach shot in the green-side bunker, while Snedeker landed his in the middle of the green, about 20 feet away from the hole.
Donald, considered by many to be the best bunker player in the world, managed to get his ball out of the sand, but it rolled to the side of the green. Snedeker slid his putt just to the right and tapped in for par, forcing Donald to go after the hole with a chip. The ball hit the cup, but bounced out and gave Snedeker the win.
Here are five things you need to know from Sunday’s memorable final round:
1. By the numbers: Snedeker had to go low to catch the crowded leaderboard, and he did so with nine birdies against two bogeys. He also picked up a birdie on the first hole of the play-off. The final-round 64 tied his best round of the year (a second-round 64 at the Transitions), and was his best final-round score by three shots (a 67 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open). The victory, his fifth top 10 finish of the season, moved Snedeker to 7th in the FedEx Cup standings. He also eclipsed $2 million in yearly earnings for only the second time in his career, earning $2,836,643 in 29 events in 2007.
2. Revolving door: Donald missed out on a chance to move into No. 1 in the world rankings, instead Lee Westwood returned to the spot, only eight weeks after Martin Kaymer took the title away. It is the third time in less than nine months that the top spot has changed hands, matching the previous six years total.
3. There goes a big pile of cash . . . . . Just one off the lead to start the day, Jim Furyk was in the final group and poised to make a run at a second straight title. Then came a back nine 40 and a crash down the leaderboard.
From a chance to win, Furyk finished T-21.
Hard to believe, considering he started so well – a birdie at the par 5 second and a string of pars. But a sloppy bogey at the par 4 10th set Furyk reeling on a day when he called Harbour Town Golf Links “very, very, very, very severe, almost sketchy.”
Sitting 10 under and just two off the lead, Furyk squandered any chance at victory when he tried to force a wedge into a hole location at the front of the par 5 15th green. He came up short, then tried to putt something up the bank. But that ran about 35 by the hole, he three-putted, and that was it.
If Furyk had any regrets, it seemed to be that his play at 15, then his double-bogey at 18, cost his playing competitor, Donald.
“I’m just sorry Luke had to endure all that,” Furyk said.
4. Talking No. 1 . . . . . On a week when his Ryder Cup teammates here (Luke Donald) and there (Lee Westwood, in Indonesia) were fighting over the world’s top spot, Graeme McDowell went on with his business far from the spotlight.
Opening rounds of 68-69 were lost in the woes of a weekend 74-74 that left the reigning U.S. Open champion joint 62nd. Still, McDowell found plenty of pleasure in the battle between Donald and Westwood. Yes, because they’re friends, but also because it shows how wide open things are.
“There’s a bit of wealth of talent out there and we are showing that there are other players out there. I think it’s a good thing,” McDowell said.
While this week focused on a battle between Nos. 2 (Westwood) and 3 (Donald) to overtake No. 1 Martin Kaymer, McDowell relishes the fact that others have legitimate shots at the top spot. Like himself.
“The rest of us are all pretty close as well,” said McDowell, who began the week No. 5, but just 1.71 points behind Kaymer.
Told that a victory at the right time, or even two, would provide him a shot at the top spot, McDowell nodded his head. “Exactly. I’ve just need to get my head screwed back on again, start playing a little better.”
Having started the season with three straight top 10s, McDowell has struggled of late, finishing T-42 at the Cadillac Championship, then missing cuts at Bay Hill and the Masters. His weekend at Hilton Head didn’t taste great, but he’s off to New Orleans and determined to turn things around.
5. Reserving prayers for something truly special . . . . . The last time the final round of this tournament fell on Easter Sunday, 2006, Aaron Baddeley was your winner. As he did that Sunday five years ago, Baddeley was part of the Sunrise Service on the 18th green to celebrate Easter, but he told reporters that he wasn’t going to use yesterday’s occasion to pray for a dramatic rally.
Only five back to start the day, Baddeley instead was focused on a spiritual moment that means a great deal to him.
But when asked if he was going to pray that a sponsor be found so that this tournament could continue, the Aussie smiled.
“Absolutely,” he said.