Sep
22
2012
2012 Tour Championship, Saturday Tidbits: Snedeker putts his way to the top
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

PLAYOFF FEVER

It’s nearly 8pm here on a Saturday night, so I’m not quite sure what I’m still doing in the media center. Oh, Ryder Cup preview stuff! You guys are all probably watching college football, anyway. To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the tournament (FedExCup) within a tournament (Tour Championship), but I certainly will tomorrow when they’re coming down the stretch. Hopefully it’s an exciting finish — which would be a fitting way to kick off the much-anticipated Ryder Cup.

Maybe it’s just me (and the fact that I’ve never covered a RC in person — I live-blogged the 2010 matches for the WSJ from home), but it seems like there’s more buzz and hype than usual. It’s also at home this year, so that plays into it. I’m extra pumped because it will be my first. A few veteran scribes told me today that it’s a good thing to get a fresh take because most of them have covered so many that they’re a little jaded.

Two things I’ve heard over and over from others: It’s a tough tournament to cover and it’s even worse to try and watch as a fan.

With that knowledge, I’ve been doing my best to do as much as recon as possible this week. What have I learned? Well, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker both want to play with Zach Johnson. Dufner and Snedeker will have to fight over him, but Zach said he thinks he should probably play with Dufner for at least one match, so I guess a compromise will work. Of course, this is all speculation — who knows what will actually transpire.

Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson teamed up against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a practice round at East Lake earlier this week. Dustin said he and Kuch “put a whupping on Phil and Keegan.” Kuchar said today it was kind of a simulated practice for Medinah, but naturally, he added he’s happy to with anyone. Blah, blah, blah.

I’ll put together a more comprehensive and cohesive preview of quotes and notes tomorrow or Monday.

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Onto the Tour Championship and the wheelbarrow of cash worth $10 million!

I know that’s a lot of money (duh), but I’ll guarantee that these guys aren’t thinking about it until *maybe* the back nine or last few holes if they have a chance to win it. Most of these players would rather win the Tour Championship over the FedExCup. Listen, the guys here aren’t thinking about padding their already million-something bank accounts. Some of them have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it!

“The only time I actually thought about (prize money) was after a round was canceled at the (1997) B.C. Open, and that was the only time,” said Tiger Woods, who shot a solid three-under 67 to get back in the mix. “The final round was washed out and I thought at the time — I think I was top five or something like that, and I really wanted to play that day to get my (PGA Tour) card. I ended up not playing. I was guaranteed 150, so I had some kind of exempt status going into the following year.

“But I really wanted to play and move up that board and secure my card. That was the only day I actually thought about the money.”

Exactly.

Added Brandt Snedeker, who is tied for the lead: “I think as rookies out here, you always look at that money list when you haven’t secured your card, wondering what’s going on. Now that I’ve been out here for a while, I realize you don’t play for money, otherwise you’ll be 80 to 125 every year on the money list.  You play to win championships and the money comes with that, which is great.  You know, I’m going out there to win a golf tournament tomorrow, and whatever comes of that, is great.”

Precisely.

The 30 players at the Tour Championship are pumped they made it to East Lake because of all the perks that come with it — a ticket into all of next year’s majors (except for the PGA, but I don’t think there’s ever been a guy who played in the Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship that didn’t get in the PGA), and WGC at Doral and Invitationals, etc. They can set their calendars, which is a great advantage, and they’re in the tournaments that have the largest purses, so they’re set up to succeed.

Meanwhile, back to Snedeker, who is making American Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III look like a genius. Like I said a few weeks ago before the captain’s picks were announced, it would have been a crime to leave Snedeker off the team because he’s such a good putter. Guess what wins matches and the Ryder Cup? Ask any player and he’ll give you the same answer (or a version of it).

“Make putts, you win,” said Dustin Johnson on Friday. “Miss putts, you lose. It’s real simple.”

I caught up with Snedeker on the 15th. (The pace of play has been excellent all week. I had a hard time catching Snedeker, who was playing with Webb, not the fastest player in the world, because they were cruising.) Guys and gals at home, you should all watch Sneds and emulate his quick play and excellent putting stroke.

He had his game face on. You know, that look when a guy is in a zone and you can tell he’s playing well and he’s feeling great about his game. If he keeps this up, he might be the secret weapon for the Americans. On the uphill par-5 15th, Snedeker rolled in an 8-footer for birdie. He just missed his putt on 16. Then on the difficult 17th (even I cringe in fear on that hole and I don’t have to play it), Snedeker blasted his drive into the middle of the fairway.

The wind was blowing a steady 15 mph on Saturday afternoon and on the 17th, it was helping, so Sneds only had a wedge into the green. He hit a perfect shot to the difficult back pin. With a slippery 16-footer for birdie, Snedeker rolled it in dead center. It was good from the start.

He turned in a perfect bogey-free card, firing six-under 64 in the third round at East Lake, to get to eight-under total and a tie for the lead with Justin Rose.

Snedeker is known to come from behind and sneak in a real low score on Sundays. Last year at the 2011 Heritage, he shot 64 and beat Luke Donald in a playoff. Earlier this season he rallied from seven shots back at the start of the final round to outlast Kyle Stanley in a playoff at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Snedeker has never won as a frontrunner. It’s only the third time in his career that he’s led or co-led a Tour event after 54 holes. The last time was at the 2010 Waste Management Open, where he threw up and posted a final round 78 on Sunday. I don’t see the 2012 Brandt Snedeker doing that this time around.

“Yes, it’s something I’ve not done in my career,” said Brandt when asked about closing out a tournament. “I’ve never had a lead going into Sunday and won. So that’s kind of the next evolution, the next step in becoming a world-class player.  It’s knowing that you can do that, and I need to show that I can do that.”

He entered the Tour Championship 5th on the FEC points standings. As you may know, the top five “control their own destiny,” meaning if they win the tournament, they automatically win the FedExCup. Justin Rose, who started at 24th in points, needs a little help from his friends, particularly Rory McIlroy, who is lurking at 5-under, to take home the $10 million.

Alright, that’s all for tonight, folks. Enjoy the football.

(AP Photo/David Goldman; Getty Images/Scott Halleran)