When Brandt Snedeker sat down in the interview room after his incredible come-from-behind victory over Luke Donald at The Heritage, he chuckled, like he was sharing an inside joke with himself. That’s because he was. “I literally couldn’t envision sitting in this room when I teed off at noon,” opened Snedeker. “I didn’t have really any expectations today at all.”
Snedeker teed off nearly two hours earlier and rallied from six shots back to beat Donald in a riveting three-hole playoff — and denied the Englishman of the No. 1 ranking (which Lee Westwood will retake after winning in Indonesia earlier in the day). He got off to a hot start, rolling in three consecutive birdies in the first four holes. And then he added two more on Nos. 6 and 7. Suddenly, he was on the first page of the leaderboard and I decided to catch him at the turn. My plan was to walk a few and then trail back to follow the leaders, but Sneds was playing so well it was hard to pull myself away.
His pure ballstriking may have been helped by the range session he had with his coach Todd Anderson on Saturday night.
“I came out today and just kind of everything clicked,” said Brandt. “I drove the ball fantastic. I came up with a lot of birdie opportunities. I think I only missed a couple of greens out there on the golf course. I was really striking the golf ball pretty well. I rolled it the way like I’ve been rolling it for the last month, just fantastic.”
It was just as enjoyable to watch — not just the stellar golf shots, but Brandt also plays faster than the average tour player. He even slowed down his pre-shot routine recently, but he’s still one of the quickest guys (and it’s the way the game should be played, if you ask me).
I arrived to the ninth green in time to watch him drain an 11 footer to tie Luke for the lead at 11-under. Somehow Brandt avoided looking at the leaderboard all day, and after making a 12-footer for birdie on No. 18 to post a seven-under 64, he was shocked to discover his name was alone at the top.
“I literally thought that guys wold be 13- or 14-under par when I finished,” said Brandt. “When I saw I was leading by one, I was shocked. I figured the front nine, there are reachable par-5s. Luke gets off to a fast start as good as he’s playing. It was really shocking when I got done to see that I was leading by a shot.”
And that might have been for the best.
“I probably wouldn’t have birdied the last hole if I had known I was leading by a shot,” said Brandt, laughing. “Very fortunate, I think.”
From what I saw, he made few mistakes. (And I doubt he had any on the front with a bogey-free 30.) After bombing a drive down the middle on No. 10, he knocked a nice low punch to about 11 feet. He missed the downhill slider, but he tapped in for a stress-free par. On No. 11, he pounded another great drive with a little draw and hit his second to 20 feet. Another easy four.
“Good golf shot,” said Brandt’s caddie Scott Vail after he drilled it on No. 12. I know, this is getting boring — he was hitting the ball so pure.
I remember thinking Brandt looked very relaxed and steady (he’s a fidgety guy in general). Walking down the 12th fairway, he chatted cheerfully with Scott and playing partner Nick O’Hern’s caddie, who asked them if they’d ever watched that Spartacus series. Nope, never even heard of it, they replied.
With about 15 feet for birdie, Brandt slam-dunked his putt to the back of the cup and dropped in to get to 12-under for a share of the lead again. He three-putted from 25 feet on No. 13. Uh-oh, were the wheels going to start coming off? Nope. He compensated for the mistake by making a(nother) 15-footer on the following hole.
On the par-5 15th his drive ended up more left than he probably would have liked, leaving him with an awkward angle to the green and a tree in his way. Initially, he pulled a 3-wood, but after deliberating with Scotty, Brandt laid up and posted a routine par.
He made a bit of a mess of No. 16. After missing only his second fairway of the round, Snedeker found himself in the left bunker and chunked his second, leaving him in the sand still. He managed to limit the damage and two-putt for bogey. And then of course he dropped the vital putt on the 72nd hole, which turned out to be more important than he knew.
With the final group of Donald and Jim Furyk just making the turn, Brandt had several hours to mull over the possibility of a playoff.
“That was the longest two hours of my life,” he said. “It was brutal. I tried to watch some of the golf, but then I never want to root against anybody, so it became hard to watch because I don’t want them to do bad, but I don’t want them to do great, either.”
Instead he went outside and talked on the phone about anything but golf. After the long, excruciating wait (I mean, I was out on the course and falling asleep in between shots because the pace of play had very noticeably slowed), turned out Brandt and Luke would duel it out in a sudden death playoff.
As you know or probably saw, it was unbelievably fun to watch, with both players draining clutch putts on No. 18, the first extra hole. And then Brandt was safely on the green with 25 feet on the next (No. 17), while Luke found the bunker. Advantage: Snedeker. But Luke made a sand save on the second (No. 17), which wasn’t a huge surprise since he finished first in sand saves on Tour in 2010.
Back to No. 18. Unfortunately, a photographer clicked early and the shutter fired in the middle of Luke’s backswing. He was noticeably affected by the distraction, and though his drive found the fairway, it wasn’t where he wanted to hit it. Brandt knocked a 9-iron — all three times he played the hole on Sunday, he had the perfect yardage — to 15 feet (yeah, he had a lot of putts in that range).
As it happened, Luke couldn’t convert for par and Brandt tapped in for his four and the Tartan jacket. Actually, he chose wisely by wearing a red golf shirt since it didn’t completely clash with the plaid.
“I said those are the two jackets I want to earn in my lifetime, a green jacket and a plaid jacket,” Brandt said. “I’ve got one.”
Congrats, Brandt and Scott!
(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)