Posted by: Mike Cornelius | February 15, 2015

One Rediscovers His Winning Ways; Three Others Can Only Wait

Given the makeup of the final two pairings at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday the day presented one tantalizing possibility and one absolute certainty. The penultimate twosome featured Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney, while Jim Furyk and Matt Jones comprised the final grouping. Between them the four had won 28 PGA Tour events, but not a single one recently. Barring a charge from someone further down the leaderboard, the end to a long wait was in the grasp of one of the four. But even absent a comeback by someone starting off the pace, for at least three of the four the final round at Pebble Beach was guaranteed to be just one more Sunday ending in disappointment.

Jones, a 34-year old Australian, claimed only one of those 28 collective titles, but it was the most recent. In his 156th PGA Tour event, Jones won the Shell Houston Open last April in improbable style. First he rolled in a monster putt from 45 feet on the 18th green to squeeze into a playoff with Matt Kuchar. Then he holed a 40-yard pitch for birdie on the first playoff hole to stun both Kuchar and the thousands in attendance. The victory was the only top-10 finish of the year for Jones, who in his 8th year on the PGA Tour has just 17 top-10s and who misses the cut in nearly four tournaments out of ten.

So it was not surprising when Jones never factored in the final round. On a day that was ideal for scoring, he started with eleven straight pars before making bogey on the par-3 12th hole. In the end he would close with a 1-over par 73, good for a share of seventh place. Still given his middling career statistics, a top-10 finish was probably enough to leaven the disappointment Jones felt at day’s end.

The same cannot be said for Furyk. Approaching his 45th birthday, the man with the instantly recognizable looping swing was easily the most accomplished of the four. He has 16 Tour titles, including the 2003 U.S. Open. In 2010 he won the Tour Championship and the season-long FedEx Cup points race, as well as the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average. It was all more than good enough to garner him that year’s Player of the Year award.

Golf fans can immediately recall the close of that year’s Tour Championship, when the final round was played in a steady rain at Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club. At the par-3 18th hole Furyk put his tee shot in a greenside bunker, and needed to get up and down to preserve a one-shot lead over Luke Donald. After blasting out of the sand to five feet, Furyk backed away from the title-clinching putt. But it was not because of any doubt in his mind about the speed or the line. Rather he was simply bothered by the rain dripping off the bill of his cap. Furyk flipped the cap around, and looking more like a teenager at the local public links than a professional in his forties putting for a title and millions of dollars, calmly rolled the ball in the middle of the cup.

One of the reasons fans remember that day is that it was the last time that Jim Furyk won a golf tournament. In the four and a half years since, he has had more than his share of chances. Going into the final round at Pebble, the most agonizing statistic for the popular Pennsylvania native was that since that 2010 win he had held at least a share of the 54-hole lead eight different times, and failed to close the deal on Sunday on every such occasion. Thus it seemed almost a cruel joke by the golfing gods that when all the scorecards were signed after Saturday’s third round, Furyk’s sparkling 63 had propelled him to a one-shot lead over Jones and Snedeker at 18-under par.

During Furyk’s long victory drought fans have seen him back away from far too many crucial putts, and not because it was raining. Sure enough on Sunday the flat stick failed him in the clutch once again. He missed birdie tries from inside 15 feet on both of the first two holes, and then sent a 6 foot birdie effort sliding past the cup on the 4th. By the time he made his first birdie of the day on the par-4 11th, he was fighting back from three earlier bogeys. On a day in which the third round leader and his playing partner would be the only two golfers in the top 44 to record scores above par, Furyk did well to finish alongside Jones in a tie for seventh after posting a 74. But unlike Jones, a top-10 outcome must have tasted like vinegar on the day that Jim Furyk failed to convert a third-round lead for the ninth straight time.

Watney and Snedeker, playing just ahead of Furyk and Jones, each were going through their own victory droughts. Watney last won at The Barclays in August, 2012. Once ranked as high as 10th in the world, he had tumbled all the way down to 120th. In seven tournaments this season he has missed three cuts but also recorded three top-25s, including a seventh place finish last week in San Diego. His final round Sunday mirrored his feast or famine season. He birdied the first four holes to seize the lead from the plodding Furyk, but then made consecutive bogeys. In all he made par on just one hole one the front nine, and on just five holes overall. A pair of closing birdies moved him up into solo second, but for the 33-year old Watney, who led the 2010 PGA Championship by three shots at the start of the final round before imploding with a final 81, a 6th PGA Tour title will have to wait for another day.

But it was not complete disappointment for these final four golfers on the course, all of whom began the round hoping that their next victory was finally at hand. No one came rushing from back in the pack, mainly because no one played Pebble Beach with greater control on Sunday than Brandt Snedeker. His closing 67 was bested by just four golfers in the entire field. With three birdies on the front Snedeker staked his claim to the lead, and when he rolled in an 8-footer for another birdie on the 11th he began to separate himself from the field. By the time he and Watney reached the 18th tee Snedeker’s lead was four strokes, and he could play the closing par-5 with three safe irons.

For Snedeker it was the first win since the RBC Canadian Open in 2013, ending an interregnum that was approaching two years. During that time he dealt with both a variety of injuries and a decline in his normally outstanding putting statistics. On Sunday the 34-year old Tennessean looked healthy and his work on the greens was immaculate. When he teed off for the final round Snedeker was outside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, meaning he was looking at idle time during the Masters and the PGA Championship, as well as for the weeks of the World Golf Championship events. With the win all of that changes, and Snedeker can now look forward to a full season of important tournaments.

But for the other three golfers in the final two pairings at Pebble on Sunday, the long wait continues. Nick Watney, Matt Jones, and most of all Jim Furyk, can only hope that another week, hopefully one coming soon, will change their fortunes the way this week changed Brandt Snedeker’s.

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