Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Brandt Snedeker lands $11m bounty as Rory McIlroy fades away

Rory McIlroy

Brandt Snedeker hit the $11.44m jackpot at East Lake on the day the magic died for Rory McIlroy.

Snedeker (31) romped to a three-stroke victory in the Tour Championship to clinch the FedEx Cup and the $10m bonus that goes with it, making US skipper Davis Love look like a genius for handing him a wild card to Medinah next weekend.

The Tennessee native came home in style, chipping in from the greenside rough on 17 for the fifth birdie of his final-round 68. This proved the highlight of his fourth PGA Tour victory and, significantly, his first tournament win after taking the lead into Sunday.

Yet it was the sweet music the Nashville man made with his putter yesterday which will establish him as a truly fearsome opponent at the Ryder Cup.

For McIlroy there was scant consolation in the $3m cheque he collected for finishing second to Snedeker in the FedEx Cup race.

Instead, the 23-year-old endured crushing disappointment as he let the biggest monetary prize in golf slip through his fingers with the final-round 74 which left him tied 10th on one-over par.

An aura of invincibility had surrounded McIlroy as he followed up his record-breaking second Major victory at last month's US PGA with sensational back-to-back FedEx Playoff wins at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championship.

Yet that aura melted away under blazing sun yesterday as McIlroy struggled yet again to keep his ball in the fairway and out of the wiry Bermuda rough which makes East Lake so deceptively difficult.

On the opening three days of the Tour Championship, McIlroy had compensated for his tendency to block his tee shots right by showing a wizard's touch around and on fast, sloping greens.

It helped him extend to 11 his run of successive rounds in the 60s and left the Holywood star just three strokes off the lead held jointly by Snedeker and England's Justin Rose entering yesterday's final round.

However, that spell broke yesterday as McIlroy, playing with notorious PGA Tour tortoise Ryan Moore, dropped four shots in a calamitous four-hole stretch through the seventh.

McIlroy had to wait until the 12th hole before landing his ball on a fairway. This recurring problem led to an untidy bogey out of an impossible lie deep in the right rough on five and once again at seven.

In between, he hit his tee shot at the treacherous 209-yard sixth off the front bank and into the water which surrounds three sides of the green. After tapping in for his double-bogey, McIlroy then missed with an attempt to throw his ball into the lake.

He went through the turn in four-over, plainly annoyed with himself after missing a seven-foot birdie attempt at nine. The even temper which had been such an impressive feature of his recent purple patch had worn paper-thin.

McIlroy had set himself a target of 64 or 65 in the final round to win the Tour Championship, but he was never going to shoot that low out of the rough. Even the level-par 70 that would have made sure of the $10m FedEx jackpot was well beyond him yesterday.

From the fairway, East Lake is a different, more benign proposition, as the youngster learned as he made his first birdie of the day, hitting a 140-yard approach from the short grass to five feet before rolling in the putt.

Yet McIlroy made life difficult for himself once again with a wayward tee shot and missed green at 14 on his way to yet another bogey. He had a slight brush with the rules in the semi-rough there but a tournament referee dispelled any suspicion that the Ulsterman moved his ball after address.

A neat up-and-down birdie from a greenside birdie at the par-five 15th once again hinted at what might have been for McIlroy had he managed to stay on the straight and narrow ... then he promptly threw away another shot at 16, missing from seven feet for par.

In fairness, the world No 1 fought to the finish, sinking an eight-foot putt for par at the last to hang onto his place in the top 10.

The only consolation for McIlroy and European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal are the wide-open fairways at Medinah, venue for the Ryder Cup -- which begins on Friday -- so McIlroy's prodigious length will once again become a powerful asset in Chicago.

Straight-hitting Americans Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan certainly made it look easy as they posted final-round 66s yesterday.

Meanwhile, England's Mr Precision, Luke Donald, birdied three of his final six holes as a closing 67 lifted him into a share of third with Moore on six-under, one behind runner-up Justin Rose, who rounded off a 71 by sinking an 11-footer for par at the last.

Moore briefly joined Snedeker in a tie for the lead on nine-under when he completed back-to-back birdies at 15 but he then fell off the pace by finishing with a hat-trick of bogeys.

McIlroy certainly wasn't the only player to end-up red-faced at the short sixth. Tiger Woods also dumped his tee shot in the water there on his way to a double-bogey five. Though he played his first six holes in four-over, Woods recovered nicely for a 72, a lovely birdie two at the last propelling him into a share of eighth on two-under.

Snedeker became the sixth player to find the water at six yesterday and 15th in all during the Tour Championship. However, his five there was a mere hiccup as he sank a series of fantastic long-range putts to stamp his authority on proceedings. A gloriously gifted player, the ever-cheerful Snedeker yesterday dispensed forever his reputation as a suspect finisher.

McIlroy's $3m FedEx Cup cheque boosts his earnings for the PGA Tour in 2012 to more than $8.25m, rich compensation for such a disappointing finish to a phenomenal season.

Meanwhile, former European skipper Colin Montgomerie claimed that he wouldn't want McIlroy facing Tiger in the Ryder Cup singles on Sunday. The man who led the side to victory at Celtic Manor two years ago says he'd try to avoid golf's two biggest attractions going head-to-head, despite the public clamour for it.

"I'd leave Woods well alone," said Montgomerie. "I'd want Rory to be playing someone else in the singles."

The only Ryder Cup singles Woods has lost was on his 1997 debut -- Costantino Rocca beat him at Valderrama -- but Davis Love would be just the second American captain to send him out first.

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