Tournament drawcard Brandt Snedeker sucked away all hopes of an upset victory by a lesser-ranked player to dominate the 2016 Fiji International, winning by nine strokes for his first victory on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
In a controlled, committed exhibition, Snedeker distanced himself from the field quickly in the final round then cruised to the clubhouse on a wave of safe pars to raise a trophy outside North America for the first time. His 68 for a 16-under total relegated New Zealand’s Michael Hendry (72) to second place at 7-under as interest switched to the race for runner-up honours. Behind Hendry in third at 6-under was the quartet of Matthew Giles (74), Anthony Houston (75), Andrew Evans (71) and Brad Shilton (69).
The American began Sunday three strokes ahead of Houston and four clear of Giles then birdied two of the first three holes to pull six clear in agreeable conditions at Natadola Bay Golf Course, south of Nadi. When neither Houston nor Giles could muster a birdie for the first 11 holes today, fatigue a week after the heady Ryder Cup victory celebrations became the only likely obstacle for Snedeker.
The 35-year-old is too well-schooled to allow even a hint of slipping, as he put on a clinic in the final round. On the lone occasion Snedeker found trouble, after he lost a ball by airmailing a fairway bunker shot into long grass at the tough par-4 10th, he curled in a 35-foot bogey putt to retain a six-stroke lead. In world ranking terms, Snedeker out-ranked every other player in the field by at least 100 places – and performed that way. A noted strong-wind and bad-weather player, Snedeker flighted his ball artfully through the breeze and rarely strayed from the short grass, two key ingredients to conquering the Natadola Bay layout.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day, birdieing the 1st hole out of the gate, birdieing two of the first three and being 3-under after six. It was a great way to cap off the week; I didn’t give anything back today and I was really happy with the way I finished,” said Snedeker, who narrowly lost the 2007 Australian Open the first time he was in contention on our tour. “It was playing so tough. There were no low scores [attainable] out there, so that made my job easier.”
“It was playing so tough. There were no low scores [attainable] out there, so that made my job easier.” Brandt Snedeker
The new champion banked $250,000 for the week, while the Fiji International’s co-sanctioning with the European Tour gives Snedeker an exemption on that circuit until the end of 2017, however the Tennessee native is unlikely to make any great use of it. He and wife Mandy honeymooned in Fiji eight years ago and will spend time holidaying in the area with their two children after the tournament, but that’s about as adventurous as their upcoming travel will be.
Sunday was no day of rest at Natadola Bay. While the breeze blowing off the Pacific Ocean was far less arduous than yesterday, the wind was fickle enough to present challenges. Among those toiling hard in a bid to catch Snedeker – or at least nail down second place – were Hendry, Giles, Houston and Evans plus New South Wales Open champion Ben Eccles. Hendry, who sits sixth on the Japan Golf Tour moneylist, pieced together his closing 72 with four birdies and four bogeys. As Giles, Houston then Eccles retreated, the Kiwi stood tallest among the non-Snedeker division. He now assumes top spot on the PGA Tour of Australasia Order of Merit, by a mere $1,200 from Victorian Matthew Griffin.
Robert Allenby, working a weekend for just the second time all year, plucked six birdies from Natadola Bay in a closing 69. South Australian Max McCardle rocketed around in a day’s best 66 to leap into equal 12th, Jake Higginbottom shot 68, while Jarrod Lyle eagled the 71st hole to cap a 70.
Snedeker, however, was irresistible. Four front-nine birdies against no bogeys – he dropped only three shots all week – sent him out in 32, the equal-best opening side in the field on Sunday, to grow his lead to seven strokes over Hendry. From there the leader could afford to cruise, taking cautious lines and avoiding errors that might erode his lead.
A first victory outside North America helped erase some scars from that ’07 Australian Open, where a late, self-imposed penalty cruelled his chances, and the embarrassing missed cut at the Australian PGA last December.
“It’s nice to win outside the United States. It validates that your game can travel and you can play against some other competition. I came over here with one purpose and that was to do that.” Brandt Snedeker
“It’s nice to win outside the United States,” said Snedeker, who does own a Canadian Open title among his eight PGA Tour victories. “It validates that your game can travel and you can play against some other competition. I came over here with one purpose and that was to do that. I’ve had success playing in Australia and Asia before but never won, so it’s nice to get a ‘W’ and know that my game can hold up.”
Fiji’s Vijay Singh closed with a 69 to finish 2-under and tied for 21st. The course he helped design will receive a few tweaks in the coming weeks and months to soften some of the steeper contours and create more pin positions. Next year’s Fiji International is likely to move forward in the calendar by a few weeks, potentially complicating the chances of Snedeker defending. For now, he joins last year’s champion Matt Kuchar as a winner in paradise with fond memories to take home from a brief but brilliant working holiday in Fiji.