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Lateral Hazard: Hunter Mahan's $1 million decision opens door for Brandt Snedeker win

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

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Brandt Snedeker took advantage of Hunter Mahan's departure by winning the Canadian Open. (AP)


Brandt Snedeker attacks a golf course like a man having fun. He walks briskly, he takes no longer than 10 seconds to hit crisp golf shot after crisp golf shot, and he’s more than likely to roll in that putt, thank you very much, and darn near skip to the next tee box.

It seems like good things happen to guys like that. Put positive energy into the universe, maybe some positive energy comes back your way.

And so it was that Saturday afternoon outside of Toronto, at Glen Abbey Golf Course, at the Canadian Open, Snedeker was blistering his way to a third-round 63 when he glanced at the leaderboard and noticed something was missing.

Namely, the leader.

By now, surely you know that Hunter Mahan, owner of a healthy 36-hole lead in Canada, 13-under entering Saturday, two up on John Merrick, four up on Bubba Watson, eight up on Snedeker and playing great golf just a week after playing in the final twosome at the British Open, left Canada moments before his third-round tee time when he got word his wife was in labor with their first child.

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Hunter Mahan had a healthy lead before bolting for Texas. (AP)

Imagine Snedeker’s feeling when he glanced at that leaderboard and picked up on the fact that Mahan was not only not in the lead anymore, he wasn’t even in the country. Snedeker had to see this as an open invitation to go ahead and win the gosh darn Canadian Open, right? I mean, when the guy you trailed by eight strokes vanishes from the premises and you’re carving a tight little 63 on Moving Day, you’ve got to start thinking it’s your weekend.

For ‘Sneds’, this had to be the golf equivalent of cruising through the players’ lounge, seeing a giant piece of peanut butter-chocolate cake sitting, untouched, in front of Mahan, and seeing Mahan excuse himself from the table. In that situation, you have no choice but to eye the cake, stop Mahan on his way out and ask, almost incredulous: “Dude … you gonna eat that?” When Mahan answers in the negative, if you’re Snedeker, well, then, dive right in. Cake, ahoy. Tuck in the napkin. Eat up.

Next thing you know, Snedeker’s Sunday 70 was enough to hold off a charging Dustin Johnson – who went right into the ditch with a triple-bogey on the 71st hole – and the kid outta Vanderbilt with the country club name, Tom Watson’s swing and a growing résumé had his second win of the year, a nice companion piece to go with February’s AT&T triumph at Pebble Beach.

Moreover, his five wins since the start of 2011 trails only Tiger Woods’ seven on Tour. He and Tiger have something else in common, too: they’re both major-less in that time. Granted, Tiger has a 14-spot of majors to fall back on, while Snedeker, at 32, has yet to win one.

But the PGA Championship starts a week from Thursday at Oak Hill, and you’d of course be silly to overlook the seventh-ranked player in the world who, statistically, is about as overall solid as they come – third in birdies, 17th in putting, 26th in greens in regulation. And he’s been knocking on the major doors for a while now, including a tie-6th at the Masters, a tie-17th at the U.S. Open and a tie-11th at the British Open just this year.

If Snedeker sticks to his game plan – fairways, greens and having leaders vanish on weekends – I don’t see any way he keeps being denied.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

67-64 – W/D – Hunter Mahan, 13-under, 36-hole leader, Canadian Open, Glen Abbey GC, Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

And a hearty congratulations and mazel tov and all that to Kandi and Hunter Mahan, proud parents of baby girl Zoe Olivia, born Sunday at 3:26 a.m. Central time in the Mahan’s hometown of Dallas. Daddy made it to the hospital in time, experienced the miracle of child birth, and now, like all new parents, has to be asking himself the questions we all ask: How amazing was that? How much more can I love my wife for being so tough and brave? How beautiful is our little daughter? When will she stop crying? Do I really have to change diapers for the next three or four years? What have I gotten myself into?

Rimshot! Just kidding, Hunter. It just gets better and better and you are a lucky man.

Now, the question: Will Zoe always realize that Daddy passed on a possible $1.008 million payday for her sake, and will she keep that in mind when, as a teenager, she slams her bedroom door because Daddy won’t let her use the car?

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Hunter and Kandi Mahan pose for a picture after Hunter won the Shell Houston Open in 2012. (Getty)

Deservedly, Mahan received plaudits from around the golf world for putting family first. Times have changed, though. Just 30 years ago, players in all sports routinely missed births. In baseball, San Francisco Giants pitcher Mike Krukow once learned of his wife’s successful birth of their child by reading it on the Candlestick Park scoreboard – while he was on the mound.

Some wondered aloud if Mahan would have had the same paternal instincts were he leading the Masters, or U.S. Open. I’d think he would. There will always be another major. There won’t always be another Zoe.

Phil Mickelson set the precedent back in 1999 when he carried a beeper (so late ‘90s!) at Pinehurst to alert him if his wife, Amy, were to go into labor – while he played in the final twosome with Payne Stewart on Sunday at the U.S. Open. Lee Westwood skipped the 2001 Masters for the birth of a child. So, it has happened. What made Mahan’s more notable is that he was halfway home to a big payday and a nice win.

But via the miracle of social media, we all saw Mahan’s maternity ward photo of his wife and he and Zoe, surrounded by loving family, smiles all around. It was clearly the right call, and with $2.3 million in the bank already in 2013 for Mahan in 19 starts, I’m presuming the Mahans can afford a nanny while he takes aim at a PGA Championship in August.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

“I can’t see it” – Mark Wiebe, teeing off in the dark, replayed on The Golf Channel, in Senior British Open playoff with Bernhard Langer at Royal Birkdale.

If you’re reading this column, you’re more than likely a golf junkie. And if you’re a golf junkie, you’ve more than likely tried to squeeze in that last hole well after sunset, when you have no chance of finding your tee ball. So what you do is, you hit, you hope to find it in the fairway with your night-vision goggles, and if you don’t you drop another one and keep hitting, emptying your bag of all those scuffed Pinnacles you’ve kept in your bag for just this special moment.

But for Wiebe and playoff foe Langer, there was no “Hey, I can’t find this, let’s just drop one, hit and go get dinner” moment. This was the Senior British Open! In a playoff! In the dark!

And for anyone who’s been in the United Kingdom in the summer, you know it stays light quite late, so Langher and Wiebe were bumping up against 10 p.m., which is sort of late on a Sunday to be playing major championship golf.

A couple of key notes here: One, Wiebe found his ball, because he striped it, center cut. New slogan: These Guys Are Good, Even in the Frickin’ Dark. And two, the only reason they were in a playoff was because Langer pulled one of the biggest meltdowns of the year, making double bogey on the par-4 72nd hole at Birkdale to blow a two-shot lead and allow Wiebe into a playoff.

TV cameras caught Wiebe’s face as Langer made a mess of the 18th – misplayed second shot from the fairway into a greenside bunker short; a bunker shot off the face; a missed 6-footer for bogey – and even he seemed to be thinking: “Man, what a mess. Now I have to go play nocturnal golf?”

Of course, as Wiebe and Langher are members of the 50-and-over crowd, you could make plenty of jokes about strained eyesight, driving in the dark, you name it. It ended with no resolution, either. They played two playoff holes with essentially no daylight, and both made pars, even without coal-miner’s helmets.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

I can’t mathematically prove this, because it would take re-reading all of my columns over the last four or five years, and Lord knows nobody wants do to that, least of all me. But, I’m pretty sure Dustin Johnson is my all-time leader in Mullys o’ the Week.

There’s something so alluringly tragic about Johnson’s game. He’s got monstrous amounts of talent, mixed with heaping helpings of mental breakdowns. We were all introduced to this in the summer of 2010, when his third-round U.S. Open lead at Pebble Beach was immolated Sunday in startlingly quick fashion; and we doubled down on this when he decided to not read the local rules at Whistling Straits at the 2010 PGA Championship, and couldn’t tell a bunker from a patch of dirt. 

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Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky pose for a picture while in Germany. (Getty)

Since then, we’ve gotten to know Dustin Johnson, in all his glory. He can win, and even did so just weeks after Whistling Straits in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He won a FedEx playoff event in 2011, too. He won at Memphis in 2012, and won at Maui earlier this year to keep his six-year win streak alive. He also keeps company with the beautiful and glamorous Paulina Gretzky, and keeps the world informed of their 20-something whirlwind trip through their hormones with Instagram after Instagram.

Put simply, Johnson can win anytime he tees it up. Or, he can implode.

Fast-forward to the Canadian Open, final round. Here came Johnson, off a Saturday 63, making his move on Sunday. He birdied Nos. 2, 5, 13 and 16 and was four-under coming to the 17th hole, tied with Snedeker for the lead. With the par-5 18th looming, and with Johnson as one of the biggest bombers on Tour, he was sniffing victory, big.

And then Dustin Johnson added a chapter to his lore. He used driver on the par-4 17th when driver wasn’t entirely necessary, and he hit what he called “by far” his worst drive of the week. It went right, way right. Way, way right. O.B. right. He made triple-bogey on the hole, and that was that.

Afterward, Johnson told The Golf Channel he’d hit driver again. Then, in that South Carolina drawl of his, he said in a sort of charming way to Scott Walker of The Golf Channel: “I guess it went into y’all’s compound, didn’t it?” Yes, the golf ball was so O.B., it did land near the TV compound. That Johnson pointed that out is all part of the Dustin Johnson persona. You wonder if he’s devastated by these events, or mildly amused, or nonplussed, or all of the above.

So, let’s head back out to 17 tee, remind Johnson that he’s good enough to win anytime, anywhere, that we’d love to see him head to the 72nd hole with a chance to win, maybe suggest holstering the driver and . . . give that man a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

It’s big boy time at Akron.

The World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, at a golf course where Tiger has won seven times but not since 2009, is a mighty thing. All of the top 50 players in the world, save for the injured Louis Oosthuizen, will play. That means we get to see British Open champ Phil (Everybody’s Hero) Mickelson, and maybe he’ll replicate his Claret Jug-toting visit to Callaway and play in flip flops. Tiger will be hungry, of course.

And Rory McIlroy will be there, a week after Gary Player told a British radio station some of Rory’s decisions to de-emphasize golf and over-emphasize his love life have “perturbed” him. Listen up, Rors. When the 77-year-old guy who’s good enough and fit enough to go starkers on the cover of ESPN’s The Body Issue talks, you’d better listen.

Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Steve Elkington in hot water over twitter remark about Pakistanis
Canadian Open leader Hunter Mahan withdraws to be with wife
Web.com golfer Russell Knox breaks 60
Phil Mickelson plays Ping-Pong on the 'Today Show'

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