Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Sunday, February 10, 2013
Updated: February 11, 7:25 AM ET
Snedeker proves mettle at Pebble

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

Brandt Snedeker is ready to distinguish himself among the PGA Tour's elite after a strong win at Pebble Beach. Rocco Mediate made a big splash with the old elite. And Patrick Cantlay is simply trying to find a place with the elites.

Good to Great

In this job, readers often remind me that pro golf is bigger than just a handful of superstars who dominate the headlines. The PGA Tour is full of millionaires with a smattering of wins, including a major championship here and there. But the number of truly great players is very small.

Brandt Snedeker
Last week, Brandt Snedeker finished second to Phil Mickelson at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The week before that, Snedeker was No. 2 to Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines. Sunday at Pebble Beach, Snedeker was second to no one.

That's why there is all this buzz surrounding Rory McIlroy. There is the hope that the 23-year-old Northern Irishman might be the one to break the monotony on mere competency.

But it's very difficult on a talent-laden PGA Tour for a player to distinguish his game from the fray. Over the past 20 years, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have managed this feat, but they are anomalies.

Week after week, men mostly take turns sharing the victory podium. Good player after good player manages to put together a great week, where every part of their game comes together.

It was Brandt Snedeker's turn this week at the AT&T National Pro-Am, where he shot a 7-under-par 65 on Sunday for 19-under total to beat Chris Kirk by two shots. It was Snedeker's fifth career win. He has now shot under par in 18 of his 19 rounds on the year.

The 32-year-old former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion now has a win, three top-5s and a tie for 23rd in his five events on the year. The victory vaulted him to fourth in the world.

"I've won five times out here now," Snedeker said. "Now it's time to win majors."

The Vanderbilt graduate and Nashville native has all the makings to not only win a major, but might have the greatest potential to break away from the large pack of his contemporaries with at least five wins but less than 10 -- a list that includes Nick Watney, Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald and Dustin Johnson.

The players on this list all share a keen desire to capture their first major. But Snedeker might be the first of them to reach this goal. Since joining the PGA Tour in 2007, Snedeker has been one of the best putters in the game. With a short, jabby stroke and a fast routine, he doesn't build any of the tension and nerves in his stroke that befall many putters under pressure.

In September at East Lake, where he took the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Tour Championship, the world got a taste of Snedeker's mastery under pressure. It wasn't a major, but it was proof of his abundant capacity for the big stage. Now with the leap to fourth in the world, No. 1 is in his sights.

"People probably didn't believe in me and didn't think it's doable, but I think it is and I believe in myself and what I'm capable of," Snedeker said this week about getting to No. 1. "When you start winning and putting stuff on top of stuff, it becomes very, very possible. Obviously I have some great guys in front of me that are playing some pretty great golf right now, but I'm not in control of that.

"All I can do is go out there and win and put myself in position like I have the last few weeks, and all that stuff comes along with it."

For a guy with his putting touch and self-confidence, five wins, No. 1 and a major doesn't come close to the fulfillment of his potential as a player.

The game is ready to welcome his ascent from good to great.

Stat of the week

Brandt Snedeker is 33-of-37 for sub-par rounds on the PGA Tour dating back to the first round of the Wyndham Championship in August 2012. The week before the Wyndham Championship, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, where he had rounds of 77 and 78 on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

The first of many?

Rocco Mediate is a throwback to the days when golfers didn't wear gloves or have flat stomachs. Mediate will be remembered most for nearly outlasting Tiger Woods to win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. But that's a relatively small portion of the lore of the Western Pennsylvania native, who won six times in a PGA Tour career that was threatened over the years by various injuries.

His win at the 2010 Frys.com Open included four hole-out eagles. USGA Executive Director Mike Davis was just a few years out of college in 1991 when Mediate started using a belly putter.

Now Mediate, the former Florida Southern star who turned 50 in December, is a rookie on the Champions Tour. He is also a winner in his senior debut with a two-shot victory Sunday at the Allianz Championship at the Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, Fla.

Mediate had the round of the week on Saturday with a bogey-free 11-under-par 61 that included nine birdies and an eagle.

The conventional wisdom is that players on the Champions Tour have their most productive years between 50 and 55. But if he can stay healthy, Mediate should be a regular winner and a fan pleaser into his early 60s.

Favorite quote of the week

"She got a little quick. I told her, 'Your backswing is a lot like diplomacy. They take a while to get to where you want to go. So just slow it down,'" -- PGA Tour player Joe Ogilvie on Condoleeza Rice's golf swing. Rice teamed with Jason Bohn in the AT&T National Pro-Am. On Thursday, the 58-year-old former Secretary of State struck a spectator in the head with an errant shot on the sixth hole at Pebble Beach. Rice tried to assist the bleeding female spectator until first-aid staff arrived.

Cantlay's new world

Patrick Cantlay is no longer the best amateur in the world. The 20-year-old former UCLA star is a professional with conditional status on the Web.com Tour.

Welcome to the real world.

Cantlay, who missed the cut in his first two starts of the season on the PGA Tour, finished in a tie for ninth this week at Pebble Beach after getting into the Pro-Am off a sponsor's exemption. It is his best finish on the regular tour since turning pro in June.

These are humbling times for the newest iteration of a southern California golfing wunderkid. But the shock to the system should be good for him as he tries to earn his card through sponsor's exemptions on the regular tour and the Web.com Tour.

With a $175,000 payday at Pebble Beach, he's off to an excellent start. But he's a mere baby in the hard knocks world of pro golf. No matter what happens this year, he made the right decision to turn pro.

He can't learn how to play the tour in college tournaments.