HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — The toughest part of Brandt Snedeker’s day was spent in the clubhouse.
Snedeker posted an out-of-nowhere 7-under-par 64 on Sunday to come from six shots behind to finish in the lead at The Heritage nearly two hours before the round ended.
So Snedeker headed inside to watch, wait and see if he’d get back on the course. He eventually did, beating Luke Donald in a playoff Sunday and denying the Englishman a chance at No. 1.
“It was brutal,” Snedeker said of his time in front of the TV.
“I don’t want them to do bad, but I don’t want them to do great, either.”
In the end, Snedeker had the great finish, surviving against one of the world’s best in a gritty three-hole playoff for his second career PGA Tour win and first since the 2007 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., in his rookie season.
“To win this time, after all the hard work I put in the last three or four years, trying to improve, trying to get better,” he said. “I feel like my game is finally there.”
It certainly was at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Snedeker birdied seven of his first 12 holes to grab the lead just as the final pair of Donald and defending champion Jim Furyk teed off. Then Snedeker closed the final round with a 12-foot birdie putt on the signature, closing lighthouse hole at No. 18.
“It’s a storybook ending really, to be playing Luke in a playoff, to even have a chance to win was exciting to me,” he said.
Donald would’ve risen to the top spot in the world from No. 3 had he won. His countryman, Lee Westwood, moved from No. 2 to No. 1, replacing Martin Kaymer, after winning the Indonesian Masters earlier Sunday.
Donald saved par from difficult spots on the 71st and 72nd holes to force the playoff, then did it again on the second extra hole. But his luck ran out on Harbour Town Golf Links’ closing lighthouse hole, No. 18, when he got a partially buried lie in a front bunker.
Donald blasted out about 15 feet from the flag and his chip for par from just off the green hit the back edge of the cup and bounced away, giving Snedeker the victory.
Snedeker said he was more worried about getting to New Orleans for next week’s event when he woke up Sunday than contending for the title Sunday.
Tommy Gainey finished a stroke back after a 68.
Donald was the steadiest player most of the week at Harbour Town. He had birdies on the fourth and fifth holes to get to 13 under, but dropped back after bogeys on the seventh and 10th holes. He caught Snedeker with a birdie on No. 13, then parred his way in for the playoff.
“It was going to be some big rewards if I won today,” Donald said. “But I’ll try and find the positives from this week and move on.”
At least Donald leaves No. 1 at something, making $615,000 to top of the PGA Tour money list.
This figured to come down to a final-round duel between the final pair of third-round leader Donald and Furyk, who was only a stroke behind at the start, until Snedeker’s run.
“Kind of came out of nowhere,” Snedeker said.
Donald certainly kept him on the edge of his seat.
After Donald’s final birdie of regulation, he missed makable birdie tries on the 15th and 16th holes. Then Donald looked like he’d shoot himself out of it, sending his tee shot on the par-3 17th off the back, then landing his approach into the bunker in front of No. 18. Both times Donald chipped within 4 feet to save par.
Snedeker and Donald traded birdies on the first extra hole, the 18th, and pars on the second one, the 17th.
Snedeker hit the green on the last playoff hole and two-putted for par to win $1,026,000. The biggest question facing Snedeker now is whether he’ll be back to defend his title.
The Heritage is without a title sponsor, something PGA Tour and event leaders say is essential for its return in 2012. There was talk all week of a Sunday surprise, an announcement of a backer to give assurances to pros. None was forthcoming, though, and tournament director Steve Wilmot said “the sponsorship search continues in earnest.”
Gainey, bidding to become the first South Carolina native to win the state’s PGA Tour event, missed a 15-foot birdie putt on his final hole that would’ve put him to the playoff.
“I would have loved to have won,” said Gainey, who gained fame as “Two Gloves” on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” series. “I think it’s the second best tournament on tour” behind the Masters.
Furyk finished with his highest score, 76, his past 33 rounds at Harbour Town to fall from contention. “I just kind of got on a bad roll and it snowballed on me today,” he said.
Tim Herron (67) and Ricky Barnes (69) tied for fourth, two shots out of the playoff.
Snedeker said he faced softer conditions with his earlier tee time that fueled his hot start. He had birdies on the second, third and fourth holes to move within two of the lead, then added birdies on Nos. 6, 7, and 9 to finish the front side at 30 and put himself alongside Donald on top of the leaderboard.
Things weren’t as easy for Snedeker on the back. He bogeyed the 13th and 16th holes, but rallied one last time with the birdie on the difficult 18th.
When it was over, he shook hands with Donald and told him to keep his chin up. “I just told him he’s going to be No. 1. Sorry it didn’t go the right way for him,” Snedeker said.