While Brandt Snedeker was still finishing off the biggest and richest week of his golf life late Sunday afternoon, a side parking lot at East Lake Golf Club had a line of vehicles with their trunk lids open.
There was Phil Mickelson at the back of a silver SUV, sorting through his belongings with caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.
Parked next to Mickelson, Tiger Woods and his caddie, Joe LaCava, were filling the trunk of Woods’ gray BMW. Woods set a bottle half-filled with pink energy drink on the roof of his car and tossed a couple of boxes in the back seat.
Another spot over, there was Keegan Bradley, Boston Red Sox cap atop his head, talking with friends while his car was packed.
The three golfers chatted briefly with each other and, Mickelson being Mickelson, reached across a wire fence to sign a couple of autographs for fans who had spied him. Then one by one, Mickelson, Woods and Bradley tucked into their cars and drove away for a day of rest before they gather again at the Ryder Cup in Chicago this week.
The American team may not win this Ryder Cup, but the 12 players on captain Davis Love III’s team head to Medinah set up to succeed.
“Our guys are playing well. The Europeans are playing well. It’s going to be tough for either team to win,” Webb Simpson said after closing with a 66 Sunday to tie for fifth in the Tour Championship.
There are innumerable ways to evaluate and guess at how the matches might play out next week on a Medinah layout set up with short rough to encourage aggressive play. Most of those possibilities will be chewed on, broken down and cross-referenced in the coming days, all to be redone on Thursday afternoon when Love and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal set the first-day matches.
But the Tour Championship suggests the Americans could hardly be more ready.
Snedeker, one of Love’s four captain’s choices, won the tournament and the $10-million FedEx Cup prize. Simpson and Bubba Watson, who went 3-0 when they were sent out together in opening matches each day at the Presidents Cup last fall, tied for fifth.
Jim Furyk, Woods, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar all finished 10th or better.
Flip it to the European perspective and there’s Justin Rose at solo second, Luke Donald tied for third and though his driver went missing Sunday, Rory McIlroy remains the hottest and best player on the planet.
“I think it’s been a real good ebb and flow between the American team and European team,” Rose said. “Snedeker winning, the needle might be swinging in favor of the Americans.”
All 12 U.S. Ryder Cup players were in the Tour Championship as opposed to just five of the European players. It speaks to the seasons the American players have had but given the grind of the FedEx Cup playoffs – four big events in five weeks – it could also work against the Americans, Rose hinted.
“Adrenalin flows that week so it will get you through any kind of tiredness,” he said.
Rose said he was “absolutely reminded” by the sun-splashed fans on Sunday that he will be playing against the U.S. team next week. Like others on both sides, Rose said he worked hard to keep his focus on the playoff events, pushing the Ryder Cup ramp-up away.
By late Sunday afternoon, when a soft fall chill was blowing across East Lake, the focus had already changed for everyone but Snedeker, who was enjoying a double-fisted victory that cemented him as a big-time player.
Snedeker, 31, is a jumpy guy who plays golf almost as fast as he talks. He talked Sunday evening of how proud he was to have played with such a sense of calm with so much within his grasp. He never looked at a leader board and refused to let his mind wander to what it will feel like the first time he hears the “USA” chants at Medinah like the ones he heard at times Sunday.
“I’m not under any illusion of being calm next week,” Snedeker said. “But I will use (Sunday) as a huge thing to fall back on. I played against the best in the world for 72 holes and I beat them.”
Snedeker had a Sunday evening flight home to Nashville, Tenn., to see his daughter and his eight-months-pregnant wife before heading to Chicago late Monday. The East Lake parking lot was empty when he finally pulled away.
A quiet between two beautiful storms.