By John Strege
CBS' Konica Minolta Bizhub SwingVision Camera has never been necessary to identify the weakest swing in golf, historically a distinction belonging to the West Coast portion of the PGA Tour schedule.
The couch in January and February is a popular destination for many of the game's elite who toil into December. It wasn't that long ago that the tour season was said to start at Doral, at one time the opener of the Florida swing that served as the run-up to Augusta. And back when half-a-million dollars meant something, the tour attempted to lure them back to work with a $500,000 King of the Swing bonus to the player with the best record on the West Coast.
Today, no one is maligning the Arizona-California swing. Brandt Snedeker's two-stroke victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday helped lay waste to the notion that it's golf's equivalent of spring training.
Snedeker's victory follows those by Tiger Woods in the Farmers Insurance Open and Phil Mickelson in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a trifecta of America's three best players and three of the top 10-ranked players in the world.
The bonus, then, has been replaced by a penalty for those who chose to take two months off. They're now having to play catch-up, chasing a formidable triumvirate in a season that is only six weeks old.
At that, they might be chasing Snedeker all the way to September and the FedEx Cup playoffs. Already this year, Snedeker has finished third (Hyundai Tournament of Champions), tied for second (Farmers Insurance Open), second (Waste Management Open) and first. He also has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last nine tournaments dating to late August, with two victories, three seconds, and a FedEx Cup championship.
"He believes in himself now," NBC's Johnny Miller said the week before. "I think he's got a shot at maybe being the best in the world at some point. I think he's just a notch away right now."
Heady talk, but not off the mark. Snedeker arrived in Pebble Beach sixth in the World Ranking and was expected to move to fourth with his victory. CBS' Jim Nantz noted that since the start of the 2011 season, Snedeker is tied with Woods in PGA Tour victories with four, second only to Rory McIlroy's five wins.
"To think what's happened the last four months has been pretty crazy," Snedeker said. "Finishing a tournament like this off with the lead gives me a ton of confidence going into the Masters, the U.S. Open, all the great venues we have. That's next on the list. I've won five times out here now. The important thing now is to win majors."
Snedeker closed with a 65 that was borderline flawless to match the near perfection of the winter weather at Pebble Beach. His round on a sun-splashed day included six birdies, an eagle and a lone bogey to extend the tour's streak of marquee winners.
Woods to Mickelson to Snedeker is an emphatic and impressive reminder to those on the sidelines that the season starts in January, not in March.