ATLANTA — Brandt Snedeker doesn't claim to be the best player in the world, the best player on the PGA Tour or even the best overall player in the FedEx Cup playoffs. All he needed was the best round of his career at East Lake to become FedEx Cup champion, giving him the biggest paycheck in golf.
And he's not about to apologize for that.
"Life is all about timing," Snedeker said with a sneaky grin.
He proved to be the right man in the right place Sunday in the Tour Championship. On a tough day on a tree-lined course, Snedeker overcame an early double bogey in the water with four big birdies and closed with a 2-under 68, making him the only player in the final five groups to break par.
That gave him a three-shot win over Justin Rose and two trophies in one day — the Tour Championship and its $1.44 million prize, and the FedEx Cup with its $10 million. That's more money than Snedeker had made in his career going into the 2012 season.
"You go out there and play that round of golf, with that kind of pressure on that tough of a golf course, and to go through the adversity I had to go through, hitting the ball in the water and making a double bogey early and fighting my way back ... that's what you work your whole life for," he said. "This is about as close as I get to speechless."
Snedeker was tied with Rose going into the last round, though he could not ignore the presence of Rory McIlroy, who was three shots behind, and Tiger Woods, who was four back. McIlroy (1), Woods (2) and Snedeker (5) were among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup going into the final event, meaning any of them only had to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.
Never mind that McIlroy had won four times this year against the strongest fields, including a record eight-shot win in the PGA Championship and back-to-back wins in playoff events at Bethpage Black and the TPC Boston that make him the clear-cut No. 1 player in the world.
The FedEx Cup was designed to put everything up for grabs in the Tour Championship, with the better odds given to the higher seeds.
McIlroy, who had 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s going into Sunday at East Lake, knew that as well as anyone. This is one time the Boy Wonder couldn't deliver. He lost four shots in a four-hole stretch on the front nine — including a tee shot in the water on the par-3 sixth for a double bogey — and never recovered.
He closed with a 74 and tied for 10th.
"I'm a little disappointed, but at the same time, Brandt really deserves to win," McIlroy said. "He played the best golf out of anyone. He knew what he needed to do. He needed to come in here and win. He controlled his own destiny, just like I did. And he was able to come and do that. So because of that, he really deserves it."
Woods also faded early, missing the fairway with a 3-wood on the opening hole and making bogey. He also found the water on the sixth hole for double bogey, and Woods didn't make a birdie until the par-5 ninth. He ended with a birdie from tap-in range on the 18th for a 72 to tie for eighth.
"I just didn't have it this weekend," said Woods, trying to win the FedEx Cup for the third time in its six-year history.
Snedeker turned his fortunes around with a 40-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole, which was bound to roll some 6 feet by the hole until it crashed into the cup. As Rose kept close, Snedeker poured in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 13th. When Ryan Moore made two straight birdies to tie for the lead at the par-5 15th, Snedeker knocked his approach onto the green for a two-putt birdie.
The clincher came on the 17th, when Snedeker chipped in from the front of the green to take a four-shot lead into the final hole. He never looked at a leaderboard all day. He was unaware that Moore finished with three straight bogeys, and only figured he had a comfortable margin against Rose.
In his worst swing of the day, Snedeker hammered a hybrid into the grandstands on the 18th, leading to a meaningless bogey.
There were times when golf could have felt meaningless. Snedeker had to miss five tournaments this summer, including the U.S. Open, with a rib injury that might have cost him a chance at making the Ryder Cup team. U.S. captain Davis Love III picked him anyway because he wanted good putters.
If there were any questions about that pick, Snedeker answered them.
"He's looking pretty good, yeah," Woods said.
More than his own small injury, Snedeker endured a year in which his father had a liver transplant. More recently, the son of his swing coach suffered critical injuries in a car crash. Tucker Anderson, in a responsive coma, was transferred to an Atlanta hospital, and Snedeker went by to see him Sunday morning.
The teen couldn't speak, but the message came through.
"I asked him if he thought I was going to beat Rory McIlroy, and he gave me a wink," Snedeker said.
Equally impressive as his win was how Snedeker handled the notion of an $11.44 million payday ($1 million of the FedEx Cup bonus goes into his retirement fund). He called a sum that size "like winning the lottery," before explaining a little bit more about who he is and how he was raised.
His father always taught him not to buy anything he couldn't pay for, and Snedeker has followed the instruction. He has a house in Nashville, Tenn., that he said was "not grandiose." He still drives the SUV he bought after he made it to the PGA Tour six years ago.
"I'm not by any means a flashy guy," he said. "Of anybody that I know, I do not need $11 million. So there are going to be things we can do to really help people. So that's the way I look at it. This is unbelievable to be financially stable for the rest of my career. As long as I'm not an idiot, I should be fine, really. I really think we can make a difference and help a lot of people out in Nashville and Tennessee and the surrounding areas."
Next up is a tournament that doesn't pay a dime. Snedeker was headed to Chicago on Monday for his first Ryder Cup. A performance like this can only help.
"I'm not under any illusion of being calm next week," he said. "I know it's going to be a very pressure-packed week. But I am going to use today as a huge thing to fall back on next week. I played against the best in the world this week for 72 holes and I beat them."
At just the right time.