ATLANTA (AP) — Brandt Snedeker played the biggest round of his career for the biggest payoff in golf.
Needing to win the Tour Championship on Sunday to beat out Rory McIlroy for the FedEx Cup, Snedeker came up with three big birdies on the back nine at East Lake to take all the drama out the final day that had been loaded with possibilities.
Snedeker hit his final tee shot into the grandstand left the 18th green and made bogey. By then, it didn’t matter. So dominant was his performance that he was the only player from the last five groups who managed to break par, closing with a 2-under 68.
Along the way, he answered any questions about why Davis Love III made him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup next week at Medinah.
Snedeker won by three shots over Justin Rose (71) in the Tour Championship, his second title of the year, and collected $1.44 million. And he won the $10 million bonus for capturing the FedEx Cup, which comes with a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy and Tiger Woods, both of whom could have won the FedEx Cup with a victory Sunday, faded early and were never a factor.
Snedeker joins Woods (twice), Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas as winners of the FedEx Cup in its six-year history.
McIlroy had won the last two playoff events and three of his last four tournaments dating to his eight-shot win in the PGA Championship. He still is virtually a lock to be voted PGA Tour player of the year, but he had to settle for second place in the FedEx Cup.
“I knew what I needed to do,” McIlroy said. “I needed to win. Brandt knew what he needed to do. And he played fantastic. He really deserved it.”
It was an emotional week in so many ways for Snedeker, already a high-strung personality. His father, Larry, flew in to watch final round at East Lake, only the second tournament he has attended since having a liver transplant last year.
Snedeker stopped by a hospital in Atlanta to visit Tucker Anderson, the son of his swing coach who was critically injured in a recent car accident and remains unable to communicate with words.
“I asked him if he thought I was going to beat Rory McIlroy, and he gave me a wink,” Snedeker said.
He beat everybody at East Lake in a convincing fashion. After taking a double bogey on the par-3 sixth when he hit his tee shot into the water, Snedeker responded with a 40-foot birdie putt on the eighth, an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 13, and chipping in from short of the 17th green to end all doubt.
“I had complete confidence in what I was doing,” Snedeker said.
He finished on 10-under 270 and will move into the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in his career.
Ryan Moore made the strongest run at Snedeker on the back nine, and with an up-and-down behind the par-5 15th green for back-to-back birdies, he was tied for the lead. Moore never was in the mix for the $10 million bonus, though he could have affected the outcome of the FedEx Cup.
Snedeker made sure that didn’t happen with steady play. Moore made it easier.
His approach on the 16th drifted right and into the bunker. He hit his sand shot heavy and barely onto the green and missed the 18-foot par putt. On the 17th, he bailed out to the right near the hospitality tents — a popular spot with water running down the left side — played his next shot too aggressively and took another bogey. Moore finished with a third straight bogey for a 70 and wound up tied for third with Luke Donald, who shot 67.
Rose was within one shot on the back nine, but he never caught up after Snedeker’s big birdie on the 13th. Rose will look back on the final round and regret a series of missed putts, mostly for birdies and one for par, all of them costly. He missed four putts inside 10 feet.
“He’s mentally tough, Brandt,” Rose said. “It’s kind of a different pressure, playing for $10 million. It gets in your head more than other golf tournaments. Other golf tournaments, it’s more routine. But this week, it’s not routine. We talk about it all year long, and suddenly you have to walk the walk. And he did a great job of that today.”
Snedeker, McIlroy and Woods were separated by four shots going into the final round. All any of them had to do was win to capture the FedEx Cup.
Woods, who was four shots behind, was the first to leave the picture. He missed the first fairway with a 3-wood and made bogey, hit into the water on the par-3 sixth hole and was never a factor the rest of the way. He birdied the last hole for a 72 and finished eight shots behind in a tie for eighth.
“I just didn’t have it this weekend,” Woods said.
McIlroy also came undone early. He had 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s during the FedEx Cup playoff, but with a strong breeze and a fierce golf course, that was bound to end. He sped the process along by getting caught up in the rough on No. 4 for bogey, hitting into the water on the sixth for double bogey, and driving into a bunker on the next hole for yet another bogey.
The difference, though, was that McIlroy came into the Tour Championship as the No. 1 seed, so he had a slight edge on Woods. But their FedEx Cup hopes depended on Snedeker, who could win the FedEx Cup even with a runner-up finish if McIlroy and Woods were too far down the leaderboard.
They didn’t make a move to get inside the top five in the Tour Championship, and ultimately it didn’t matter. This was Snedeker’s show from the opening tee shot.
In the six years of the FedEx Cup, it has identified the best player of the year (Woods twice) and enabled another FedEx Cup champion (Furyk) to be voted player of the year. Bill Haas played the role of long shot a year ago.
Snedeker showed the value of being among the top five seeds getting to the Tour Championship, for those five only have to win at East Lake to get the $10 million bonus. Snedeker got that seeding with a win earlier this year at Torrey Pines, and showing a hot hand in the playoff events — runner-up at Barclays, sixth place at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He saved his best performance for East Lake, and walked away with $11.44 million. That’s more than his career earnings going into this season.
Who do you think will win the Ryder Cup next week?
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)