Monday, February 11, 2013
Snedeker on the rise with Pebble win
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Everything about Brandt Snedeker moves at warp speed, including his rapid rise into golf's elite.
He talks so fast that he always seems to be a few words short of a complete sentence. He plays fast, giving his hips a quick swivel to set his position before pulling the trigger. Even his putts go into the hole quickly, most of them struck with purpose instead of hope.
But when he reached the 18th tee box at Pebble Beach, he had to wait for the fairway to clear before taking a victory stroll up one of the prettiest closing holes in golf.
And that was OK with him.
"There's not much better place to be on the planet with a three-shot lead on that tee box," Snedeker said Sunday. "It felt pretty special there."
Indeed, Snedeker is in a special place.
With his 10th consecutive round in the 60s, Snedeker finally had a trophy to show for his astounding start to the 2013 season. He knew the opening seven holes were critical, and he made an eagle and three birdies to build a quick lead. He realized a late birdie would give him a cushion, and he fired at the flag on the par-3 17th to 10 feet below the cup and holed the putt. He closed with a 7-under 65 for a two-shot win over Chris Kirk in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
It was the fifth win of his career, and his fourth in the last 22 months. But it's the last six months that have really turned heads.
He captured the $10 million FedEx Cup prize with a win at the Tour Championship, where he held off the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald going into the final round. He played in his first Ryder Cup. He started this year with a third-place at Kapalua, and runner-up finishes in consecutive weeks to Woods and Phil Mickelson, both of whom had big leads going into the final round.
Go back to the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs last August and Snedeker now has six top 3s in his last nine starts. Since missing the cut at the PGA Championship, he has broken par in 33 out of 37 rounds. No wonder he now is No. 4 in the world, the best ranking of his career.
"Just hard to put into words, to have a stretch of golf like I had the last couple of months," Snedeker said. "Something you dream about. Something you think that you can do, but you don't really know until you actually put it together. And I have.
"I'm really enjoying this, and hopefully can parlay this into the best year of my career."
Snedeker set the tournament record at 19-under 267, one shot better than Mickelson (2007) and Mark O'Meara (1997), who each had a 20-under 268 when Poppy Hills (par 72) was part of the rotation. It has been replaced by Monterey Peninsula, which is a par 70.
Chris Kirk closed with a 66 to finish alone in second, though he was never closer than two shots of the lead on the back nine and finished with a birdie. Kirk finished on 269, a score that would have been good enough to win all but four times at Pebble Beach since this tournament began in 1937.
"We've had a lot of tournaments like that on tour this year where somebody has really just kind of blitzed the field," Kirk said. "I felt like I played well enough to win a golf tournament and came up a little bit short."
Snedeker could have said the same thing -- except for Woods at Torrey Pines, and Mickelson going obscenely low to win the Phoenix Open.
He wasn't about to take a back seat to anyone at Pebble Beach.
Snedeker started the final round tied with James Hahn, a 31-year-old rookie from the Bay Area, with Kirk one shot behind. He set the tone early with a 4-iron into the par-5 second hole that was on the edge of the left green. It hit the collar and kicked slightly to the right, rolling toward the pin until it settled 4 feet behind the cup.
"Kind of lucky, but it was a good shot, and to end up where it did was a great way to start the day," he said.
Hahn hit his approach high and pure, and it nearly hit Snedeker's ball before stopping 6 feet away. Hahn missed. Snedeker made. It was like that over the front nine.
Snedeker started to pull away with a 3-wood that came off the edge of the green, ran by the cup and stopped 20 feet away for a two-putt birdie. Then, he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the seventh and was on his way.
Most impressive about Snedeker this week was bouncing back from bogey. He made five bogeys for the entire week, and four times made birdie on the next hole. On Sunday, his lone mistake was knocking an 18-foot birdie off the green and three-putting for bogey at No. 9.
The answer, like everything else about him, was fast and furious.
He knocked in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 10th, and then holed from 15 feet for birdie on the 12th. Right when it looked as though he would make another bogey on the par-3 12th, he made par from just short of 10 feet.
There's a reason Snedeker led the PGA Tour in putting last year, though it's his driving that has vastly improved. Snedeker studied some statistics last year that showed his odds of hitting the green go way up when he starts in the fairway. And once he's on the green, he's tough to beat.
Hahn, who shot 70 and tied for third, was looking forward to learning something from his debut in the final group, and he saw Snedeker put on a clinic.
"I learned that he is a better guy than he is a golfer. The dude is world class," Hahn said. "He's obviously one of the best, if not the best golfer right now, and possibly for the last year. But how he conducts himself as a person on an off the golf course, that's also world class. He deserved to win today. ... I'm sure if you ask him, it was never a doubt that he was going to win the golf tournament."
"I definitely didn't want to do anything but win today," he said. "I was out there for one purpose and one purpose only, and I was extremely focused all day. I did a great job of staying patient and I did a great job of playing the golf course the way you're supposed to play it."
And the outcome was just what he expected. The way he has been playing, it shouldn't have been any surprise to anyone.