After taking a back seat to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the last two events, Brandt Snedeker had the spotlight to himself — well, he kind of shared it with his pro-am partner and friend Toby S. Wilt since the duo won that portion of the tournament. Snedeker, who has played solidly, ran into two guys who just happened to be unbeatable the last two weeks.
This week he was the one that was the man to beat, despite entering the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tied for the lead with PGA Tour rookie James Hahn.
If anything, being the bridesmaid for two straight weeks made him even more hungry for the victory.
“It helped a lot,” said the 32-year-old from Nashville, who clinched his fifth-career PGA Tour win on Sunday at Pebble Beach, referring to his back-to-back runner-up finishes. “It certainly made me not complacent. I definitely didn’t want to do anything but win today. 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.”
Snedeker shot an impressive seven-under 65 on Sunday. He became the first player to follow up consecutive runner-up finishes with a win (dating back to 1990 when Mark Calcavecchia placed second three straight weeks).
There was never much of a doubt that Snedeker, the heavy favorite, entering the final round would close the deal. Before last fall’s Tour Championship, Snedeker had been chasing the leaders on Sunday instead of being chased — which is mentally easier sometimes to come from behind because there’s not as much pressure and aren’t expectations. But he showed the world he had ascended to a new level when he closed out a three-shot win at East Lake last September.
“I was very calm today,” said Snedeker, who helped his pro-am partner on the greens, keeping in mind there was a team competition on the line, too. ”I was not jumpy at all. I had a complete same feeling I had at East Lake. I just knew it was going to happen or how or why or what I was going to have to shoot; I just had a good feeling that today was going to be my day.”
Snedeker hit a perfect shot on the iconic par-3 17th to about 12 feet. He rolled in his putt for birdie to take a two-shot lead over Chris Kirk, who mounted a valiant effort to catch Sneds, going into the 18th.
“Birdieing 17 was huge today and to have that two-shot lead walking down 18 is a lot different than having a one-shot lead,” he said. “So that was a big shot at the right time and to make that putt was very special to me…
“I kept telling myself: You have to do this at some point. You are going to have to make a putt to give yourself some leeway coming down the last hole, and it doesn’t get much easier than that: Dead-straight up the hill from ten feet; those are the kind of putts you need to make.”
He made it clear on Sunday at Pebble that he had elevated his game to the elite ranks. Snedeker is now in the conversation when it comes to the discussion of “Best American” player. Which is an aspiration of his.
“I would love to be known as the best American golfer,” said Snedeker, who moves to No. 4 in the world rankings, displacing Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen. “I’ve got a long way to go to do that, but this is a great start to the year. Couldn’t have scripted much of a better one, except for maybe winning the last two weeks if the guys hadn’t played, would have been nice.
“This is a great way to come back from that and a great four round of golf this week. I played solid every day and didn’t give away too many shots. This is what I’m capable of, so I’m looking forward to putting on more on display the rest of the year.”
Tiger Woods is ranked No. 2 in the world, so he still carries the distinction as Best American.
What’s next for Snedeker? First, he’s vacationing in Maui for a week before the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Next, he’ll play in the Match Play and then a few in Florida before trying to win his first major in April at the Masters.
As you may recall in 2008, Snedeker played in the final group on Sunday at Augusta, two shots behind leader and eventual champ Trevor Immelman, and shot 77 to finish T3. He infamously choked up and tried to fight back emotions when he spoke to reporters afterward.
“It will be very different,” said Snedeker when asked what it will be like for him going to the Masters this year. “I’ve gone there in the past thinking I can contend, and this year I’m going in knowing that I can contend and knowing that winning is not a farfetched idea. It’s very much a reality.
“And to do that, I’ve got to do the same stuff I’ve done this week and the last three weeks, be very simple, do the small stuff really well, that kind of stuff.
“But I go in there with a ton of confidence. I know that if I play the way I played the last three weeks that there’s very few people in the world that can beat me, and I will relish that challenge being there Sunday trying to beat the best player in the world or whoever it may be down the back nine at Augusta. That’s something I look forward to instead of dreading maybe four years ago.”
If he keeps up his solid play, he should also be a favorite or guy to watch at the U.S. Open at Merion this summer.
Brandt Snedeker — AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am statistics
Greens in Regulation
Brandt Snedeker PGA Tour 54-hole leads
2007 Buick Invitational
2010 Waste Management Phoenix Open 1 78 T43
2012 TOUR Championship
2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am T1 65 1
Brandt Snedeker’s last nine starts
2012 The Barclays
2012 Deutsche Bank Championship 6
2012 BMW Championship
2012 TOUR Championship 1
2013 Hyundai Tournament of Champions 3
2013 Humana Challenge T23
2013 Farmers Insurance Open T2
2013 Waste Management Phoenix Open 2
2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am 1
Meanwhile, 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie James Hahn, who was tied with Snedeker going into the final round, shot 2-under 70 to finish a career-best T3. Hahn, who finished fifth on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012 to graduate to the bigs, has made five cuts in five starts — not a bad start to his first year as a member on the PGA Tour.
Other good finishes include T4 at the Humana Challenge and T16 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he fired a final-round 62 to move significantly up the leaderboard. After he birdied the famed par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale on Sunday, he broke out the gangnam-style dance to celebrate.
“I need to work on my putting,” said James after his round on Sunday when asked what he learned about his game. “Brandt rolled them in early. I didn’t, and he rolled them in late and I didn’t. He birdied 17 and I didn’t. That’s kind of the difference. One roll here or there, a couple putts, and momentum goes the right way and he took advantage of that.”
Hahn is enjoying the solid start to his rookie season and hopes to keep it going. Most of the time a top-10 finish would automatically get him into the field for the following week’s event, but the Northern Trust Open has some different rules, so he’s moved to the top of the alternate list, along with Patrick Reed, a fellow rookie who placed T7.
“It’s been great so far, five of five cuts,” said James. “This week was the best tournament I’ve had so far. But being so close to winning a golf tournament, playing in the final group, it’s a little bittersweet.”
What else? Chris Kirk deserves a shout-out. Kirk’s runner-up finish was his best since his victory at the 2011 True South Classic, and his second career runner-up (2011 Shell Houston Open). He led the field with 24 birdies this week. In 15 rounds this season, he has shot under-par in all of them (which means he hasn’t posted even-par, either).
Oh, one last thing: Snedeker and his amateur partner Wilt tied for first, posting a total of 31-under in the Pro-Am part of the tourney, with Michael Letzig and John Erickson.
Someone might want to look into Erickson’s 18-handicap. Letzig, who missed the cut in the actual tourney, only made 6 birdies in the first three rounds. Somehow as a team, the duo shot 21-under and tied with Snedeker/Wilt to win the pro-am portion of the tourney. Seriously?
Actually, I demand a thorough investigation of Erickson’s handicap. I smell sandbagging! Ah, whatever. Maybe he just had a career week.
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)