I guess I’ll store this article in the “No Lead is Safe” files for future reference….
Kyle Stanley came into the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open with a 5-shot lead, and showed no signs of letting up on Sunday. He stayed true to his word regarding his thoughts about his playing strategy going into the final round with such a commanding lead, saying earlier Saturday evening that he was just going to approach Sunday no differently than he had every other round. When Kyle holed his birdie putt on the par5 9th Sunday afternoon, he’d just posted 3-under 33 on the front nine and this event, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be little more than a contest for 2nd place.
While Stanley continued plotting his way on the back nine, Brandt Snedeker was piecing together a solid final round himself a few groups ahead, albeit for 2nd place in his mind. He went inside and did his post-round interview in the Tour’s media tent, talking about how he was pleased with the way he managed his game during the final round and how he was looking forward to the upcoming season. Nothing seemed to suggest that he was anticipating something significant to happen in the coming minutes, but then it did.
Kyle Stanley started his back nine with back-to-back bogeys, but was still so far ahead of everyone else that it really didn’t matter. He would hit some indifferent shots on the next several holes, but over and over he continued pitching and putting his way to the pars that would surely lead to his maiden PGA Tour victory. As he came into the par5 18th finishing hole Sunday afternoon, Kyle Stanley was 3 shots clear of the guy still in the press tent talking about his upcoming season – Brandt Snedeker. At this point had this been a basketball game, the spectators would’ve been packing their belongings and making their ways to the parking lot. There was no way that this guy was going to crumble down the stretch, and all that awaited were three so-so shots and two remotely average putts.
Or at least that’s how the story should’ve ended.
Stanley’s towering tee shot on the final hole split the middle of the fairway and just trickled into the first cut of rough. The first test on this final hole was completed, with a decent lie in the intermediate rough awaiting his 2nd shot. The next test would be in the form of his decision to go for the green in two or to play safe, of which once again he passed with flying colors, as he pulled an iron out of his bag and hit a nice layup shot to within partial wedge range. With 2 shots to burn, which meant that Stanley could double bogey the hole and still safely come away the victor, the obvious play would’ve been to fly the ball well beyond the pin and 2 or 3-putt his way into the winner’s circle. But unfortunately that wasn’t what happened. Stanley hit his wedge from 77 yards and it went right over the flag, but the spin of the ball dug into the slope just beyond the pin and quickly slammed the gearbox into reverse. The next several seconds will undoubtedly be replayed over and over tonight in his sleep, as he watched his ball continue to roll end-over-end off the green, down the embankment, and finally wabble its way into the water. The look on his face was one of shock and dismay. The most important part of the exam he had failed. Stanley went on to make triple bogey thanks to an untimely 3-putt, and Snedeker closed him out on the 2nd playoff hole 30 minutes later.
Snedeker’s excitement of having miraculously won the event was diluted with the manner in which it happened, but he didn’t apologize for his good fortune on Sunday. “If anybody wants to see the trophy, it will be at my house the rest of my life. It’s not a tainted win. Winning out here is hard to do. There have been a lot of guys that have had trouble closing out. And I’m sure Kyle will end up winning plenty of golf tournaments in his career. He’s got that kind of talent. He’ll look back on this one day and realize it’s probably a good thing for him.” Snedeker also conceded that it’s tough for a player to overcome that type of a meltdown, but offered his encouragement to Stanley. “I would love to talk to him and give him support. Not because I’m sitting where I’m sitting. But as a fellow golfer, you never like to see anybody go through that. It will be a tough one for him to stomach for a while, and hopefully when he gets in that situation again, he’ll know what went wrong this time that he can fix it next time.”
Kyle Stanley was very emotional in his interview afterward, but collected himself well enough to say that he would be back. That was about the extent of what he had to offer Sunday afternoon, in what will likely be one of several heartbreaking stories that have yet to be written this season. It does remind us, however, that golf is indeed a fickle beast that begs the mind to wander. John Rollins, who went on to finish in 3rd place on Sunday, actually spoke to this Saturday evening during his post-round interview when asked about his chances of overcoming Stanley’s commanding lead. “When you’re four or five shots, sometimes it’s hard to play with a big lead because you get kind of relaxed and everything else. Then next thing you know, a bad drive here and there leads to some bogies, and birdie-bogey on the same hole and two shots could happen pretty quick.” But no one expected it to end the way it did on Sunday.
Then again, that’s why in golf – the galleries never leave until the final buzzer sounds.
For a full recap of Sunday’s crazy finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, click HERE.