There’s a name that’s been gracing the first page of the leaderboard who is tied for the 54-hole lead: Brandt Snedeker, who finished runner-up the last two weeks to Tiger Woods (Farmers Insurance Open) and Phil Mickelson (Waste Management Phoenix Open), respectively. PGA Tour rookie James Hahn birdied his last three holes at Spyglass (the hardest of the three venues) to fire a six-under 66 and tie Snedeker for the lead at 12-under through 54 holes.
Good news for Snedeker – Mickelson, who triple-bogeyed the 18th at Pebble Beach today after knocking two in the water (if you haven’t seen the GIF of his slip, then here’s a link), made the cut on the number (one-under), so he’s not a threat. And Tiger isn’t in the field.
Snedeker is by far the hottest player on Tour, currently. He’s been in the top-four in the standings after 11 of his 18 rounds in 2013. In 15 of his last 16 rounds, Snedeker has posted scores in the 60s. He’s played fantastic the last few weeks, but unfortunately he ran into two guys who simply have been just a bit better. It’s not too shabby to come second to Tiger and Phil.
Snedeker is gunning to become the first player to finish second-second-first in three consecutive weeks.
After placing second last week in Phoenix, he became the eighth player to finish runner-up in back-to-back weeks on Tour. None of the previous seven went on to win the following week. In 1990, Mark Calcavecchia finished second in three consecutive weeks.
Prior to his victory at the Tour Championship last fall, Snedeker was chasing the leaders in the final round, rather than starting at the top.
“It’s definitely a different animal and something that you have to be prepared for,” said Snedeker, the 2012 FedExCup Champion, referring to going into the final round with the lead rather than coming from behind. “The Tour Championship did a great job of letting me how I should handle it and how I need to handle it.
“I think when you have a lead, you almost need to be more patient than you typically play and give yourself a little bit more lax, or a little bit more credit for how you have played. Go out tomorrow and just try to play the same way I have the last three days.
“The last three days I’ve been very smart, pick my spots when to be aggressive, play away from certain pins and leave it on the proper side of holes, and I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that and hopefully I can keep doing that tomorrow.”
Similar to his current situation, Snedeker was tied for first through three rounds at East Lake and cruised to a three-stroke victory to claim the Tour Championship and the FedExCup titles.
The 32-year-old from Nashville is oozing with confidence, especially since his next four closest contenders only have one win out here combined: Hahn (T1, -12), Chris Kirk (3, -11), Patrick Reed (4, -10), and Richard H. Lee (5, -9) — compared to Snedeker, they’re relatively inexperienced.
Then, you have five players at eight-under — a four-shot deficit is not hard to overcome if Snedeker has a mediocre day and one of them goes real low.
You know, a lot of it has to do with confidence coming off of last year. Obviously with the FedExCup, THE TOUR Championship, the confidence I gained from there, I definitely took it into this year and realized how good I can be.
How does he explain his stellar play thus far in 2013 (and the end of 2012)?
“I worked on my stuff that I was not particularly excited about with my game at the end of last year, and a lot better this year,” said Snedeker. “My scrambling is a lot better. My proximity from 150 yards and in is a ton better than it was last year and I’m making less dumb mistakes than I did last year, so all of that on top of each other has produced a lot better golf out of me.”
All of that combined with his experience and poise make him the favorite to come out on top.
“I feel like I have a little bit of an advantage going into tomorrow just because of playing Pebble today,” said Snedeker. “The golf course is definitely playing differently than it did in the practice rounds.
“Today it was drying out a little bit towards the end of the round, but greens are a lot more receptive than I thought they would be, and chipping the ball is extremely important on the greens because they can do some funny stuff sometimes, sometimes they check up and sometimes they don’t and I kind of have a feel for how they are doing that now, so there should not be too many surprises out there tomorrow.”
Even 54-hole co-leader James Hahn, a native of Northern California and UC Berkeley grad, picked Snedeker to win earlier in the week. However, Hahn, who become an instant YouTube star last Saturday when he celebrated gangnam style after birdieing the famed 16th, feels less pressure than usual playing in the final group for the first time since Snedeker is the heavy favorite.
“I root for the underdog, but I still think he’s going to win,” said Hahn, speaking to the scrum of reporters that encompassed him after his official presser ended.
Hahn, a 31-year-old Web.com grad, spoke of the relaxed atmosphere, especially since his brother Tom is caddying for him this week.
“He helped me a lot,” said James, who has made the cut in all five starts in his rookie season. We talked through a lot of shots. The biggest thing was just making me feel comfortable out there. Like he was caddying for me we were out there talking about shots, having a good time, talking about what we are going to eat for dinner tonight or what movies we are going to watch later today.
“It’s just fun. I’m not sure if you guys have brothers or sisters, but when you hang out with family, you feel more comfortable and I feel like he’s allowed me to do that this week.”
That should come in handy on Sunday, along with his previous high-stress experiences playing in Q-school and the Web.com Tour Championship.
“I feel like the Web.com Tour has allowed me to get to a point in my life in my career make feel comfortable in the final group in a PGA Tour event,” said Hahn, whose best finishes so far are T4 at the Humana Challenge and T16 at the WM Phoenix Open. “Not exactly sure what I will be feeling, but it’s going to be very excited, going to be very nervous.
“To be able to play in a final round with Brandt Snedeker, I feel like I can learn a lot from the experience.”
If Hahn wins tomorrow, will he celebrate similar to the way he did in Phoenix? Or perhaps he’ll break out the other options he considered doing last week — which were Aaron Rodgers’ discount double-check, Tim Tebow’s Tebowing, and Beyonce’s “if you like it, then you should put a ring on it.” Before going gangnam style on national television in front of a rowdy crowd on 16, Hahn said he had never tried performing the dance (though some of his friends have told him he did it wrong, whatever).
*In the pro-am portion of the event, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a scratch handicap, and Jordan Spieth are leading with a combined score of 25-under. While Spieth has 17 birdies in three rounds, Romo is holding his own. It’s quite impressive since he’s not getting any strokes like the amateurs who are tied for second — Snedeker’s partner Toby S. Wilt is a 7-handicap, and John Erickson, Michael Letzig’s partner, is an 18 (which is resulting in some raised eyebrows, especially since Letzig missed the cut).
*The third-round lead/co-leader has gone on to win three of four 72-hole events on TOUR this season.
R1 – Greg Owen (MP/65), Brendon de Jonge (MP/67), Brian Stuard (PB/69), Brendon Todd (MP/68)
R2 – Mike Weir (MP/65), Chris Stroud (MP/67), James Driscoll (SH/67), Brandt Snedeker (SH/68), Kevin Sutherland (MP/68), Patrick Reed (PB/69)
R3 – James Hahn (66), Peter Tomasulo (66), William McGirt (67), Ken Duke (69)
*Third-Round Scoring Averages:
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
PB 34.942 36.615 71.558 71.814
SH 36.423 36.192 72.615 72.641
MP 34.308 36.000 70.308 70.244
(AP Photos/Eric Risberg and Ben Margot)