Game's big names struggle to find form
Given the rash of bogeys, the latest over-par round and the continued frustrations, what Brandt Snedeker didn’t need as he hit balls at the practice range was accompanying music.
Was his golf this bad that it needed music closely identified with funerals and memorials?
Snedeker likely didn’t even hear the bagpiper whose chords wafted down from the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse early in the evening of Round 1; so intent on hitting driver after driver after driver, Snedeker spent a massive amount of energy in a short period of time. A man on a mission, presumably.
“That was frustration just boiling over,” Snedeker said.
The day had gone poorly, a 3-over 75, as a troubling trend to this season had continued.
“Consistently inconsistent would be a way to explain my whole game,” he said.
It made no difference when the point was raised that Snedeker is not alone, that some other marquee names have been awfully quiet in recent months. But he acknowledged that it points to the fickleness of pro golf that heralded colleagues such as Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, and Jason Dufner are not exactly where they’d like to be with their games, either.
“Struggling,” Snedeker said. “It’s part of the game.”
Combined, these four have played in 48 PGA Tour tournaments this season, with zero wins, 12 missed cuts and withdrawals, and just 8 top 10s. None of those top 10s belong to Mickelson, 43, whose struggles have received the most scrutiny. When he missed the cut at The Players, just a few weeks after having missed his first cut at Augusta National since 1997, Lefty seemed beyond frustrated.
“Mentally, I’m just really soft right now. I’ll go home and see if I can work on it,” Mickelson said, his miserable start punctuated by the reality that he has played on Sunday in just seven of his 12 tournaments.
Of the four, Mickelson’s ragged performance has probably had the most lowlights. But none of the others are exactly in a good place right now.
Mahan, 32, did reel off four top-10 finishes in a five-tournament stretch between the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the WGC-Cadillac Championship. But he’s gone 15 consecutive rounds without breaking 70, dating to April 4, and in his last six tournaments he has two missed-cuts and a withdrawal.
Dufner, 37, was in the top 10 in three of his first five tournaments in 2014, but hasn’t had a steady rhythm to his schedule or his golf since early March. He’s played just four of the last 10 PGA Tour tournaments (mixed in was a tournament in China) and hasn’t done anything of note.
“I’ve played (lousy),” Dufner said, and he shook his head when it was suggested that he was showing positive signs.
“Not right now. I felt I was (on the cusp) before the Masters. I was playing pretty well. But I shot 80 (in Round 1). Didn’t play very well and I was disappointed.”
An 80 at Augusta National? Snedeker can commiserate, because that was his third-round effort, at a time when things were looking up, no less.
“I thought Bay Hill did it for me,” Snedeker said of his closing 68 that enabled him to finish joint eighth. “Then at the Masters I played great (for two rounds). Then I shot 80 on Saturday and putted horribly Sunday.”
Snedeker followed with pedestrian finishes at the RBC Heritage (T-74), Players (T-48), and a missed cut at this week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship.
Consider the frustration even thicker, but Snedeker insists the perspective is there, even while going 36 over for his last 35 stroke-play rounds.
“It’s part of the game. I haven’t had a lull in five years. In fact, I’ve been getting better and better every year, but this is the first year I don’t think I’ve gotten any better,” said the 33-year-old.
Experienced with roller-coaster rides, Mahan refuses to get too high or too low. Even when afforded the chance to lament how a poor shot got unfairly penalized at The Players Championship, Mahan didn’t budge. He took ownership of the tee shot he hit at the island-green 17th. It wasn’t exquisite, mind you, because it was short, but when the ball hit the railway tie at the front and caromed through the green and into water at the back, Mahan cringed.
But he didn’t whine.
“I just didn’t hit the shot I was supposed to hit,” he said after opening with a 73 that got even worse the next day, a 78. “I didn’t hit the green with a wedge in my hand – and the wind was helping, too. No excuses.”
While they all acknowledge that frustration has settled in, none of them are dwelling on how their stock has fallen in various standings. Mahan is presently 62nd in the FedEx Cup race, Dufner 79th, Mickelson 91st, and Snedeker, who won the $10 million bonus in 2012, is 111th.
The Ryder Cup picture also reflects their struggles. Mickelson and Dufner started the season ranked Nos. 1-2, but are now eighth and tenth, respectively. Mahan started the season seventh but has fallen to 28th, while Snedeker has plummeted from fifth to 34th.
Logic dictates that Mickelson, who has played on every U.S. team in this international business since 1994, needn’t worry. But Dufner, Mahan, and Snedeker have been around long enough to know that you don’t want your fate to be left in someone else’s hands.
They insist, however, that Ryder Cup pressure isn’t a contributing factor to their current form.
“I don’t care about any of that. I’m just focused on playing golf, whatever day and whatever tournament I’m at,” Dufner said. “I don’t worry about standings. They don’t mean much until the end of the year and it’s not the end of the year yet.”
Said Snedeker: “It’s funny, but you don’t ever think about any of that stuff in the middle of (competition). You’re just trying to see some positives, move in the right direction, trying to see some improvements. Some days you do, some days you don’t.”
As for his secret for snapping out of a slump, Dufner shrugged.
“Keep walking,” he said. “Keep playing. See if you can’t get on a little roll.