Snedeker looks to Augusta filled with confidence

By Doug FergusonFebruary 11, 2013, 6:53 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Brandt Snedeker sat alone at the far end of a bar in Carmel called A.W. Shucks – the perfect name for an oyster bar and the perfect spot for a Tennessee golfer with a mop of strawberry blond hair and an innocent, freckled face that belies how fiercely he wants to win.

He was waiting for longtime friends from Nashville for a drink before going to dinner with his wife. No one bothered him. In this tony town packed with Hollywood heavyweights, star athletes and Fortune 500 executives during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, not many recognized him.

Six days later, there was no mistaking golf's hottest player.

Snedeker posed with Clint Eastwood on the 18th green at Pebble Beach, his name in the record book for the lowest score in the 76-year history of the old Crosby Clambake. The previous two weeks, he had to settle for second place behind the best players of his generation – Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines and Phil Mickelson in Phoenix.

A two-shot win at Pebble Beach doesn't put him in their league. But he's headed in that direction.

Snedeker had said a week earlier at the Phoenix Open that elite players are defined by winning, especially majors, and ''I haven't done nearly enough of that.''

''I'm playing great right now,'' he said. ''I'm as high as I've ever been in the world ranking and that kind of stuff, but you have to win tournaments to validate that,'' he said. ''I haven't done it.''

Pebble Beach was only his fifth career win, and Snedeker is not the first player to go on a big run. Remember, Jason Dufner had a stretch last spring when he won twice and was runner-up in four tournaments. But there's an explosiveness about Snedeker, not to mention that putting stroke, which makes his goal of being the best a little more plausible.

''Brandt, great performance. Wish I had your putting stroke again,'' Tom Watson tweeted Sunday night.

In his rookie season on the PGA Tour, Snedeker was 10 under through 10 holes on the North Course at Torrey Pines, when he had to settle for a 61. He wound up third that week behind Woods. Late last year, he missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the HSBC Champions at Mission Hills for a 59.

No one had finished second to Woods and Mickelson in consecutive weeks. Dating to 1990, no one had finished second in back-to-back weeks and won the next tournament. Even more impressive about the way Snedeker won Pebble Beach is that he knew he would have to score on the opening seven holes, and he did just that. Snedeker hit a 4-iron to 4 feet for eagle on the par-5 second and drilled a 3-wood over the massive hill on the par-5 sixth to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie.

He made only five bogeys all week and four times made birdie on the next hole.

His big run began after he missed the cut at the PGA Championship and then sorted out an issue with his driver. Since then, Snedeker has broken par in 33 out of 37 rounds. His 7-under 65 on Sunday was his 10th straight round in the 60s – that includes a 68 in the cold and rain at Spyglass Hill and two rounds on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

In the last two years, only three players have won at least four times on Tour – Rory McIlroy with five and Snedeker and Woods with four.

Validation comes from winning.

Snedeker now is No. 4 in the world, and he said he would like to be known as the best American golfer. He believes he can be No. 1, no small task with McIlroy at the top and Woods getting closer than ever to a return to his full form.

The signature win for Snedeker remains the Tour Championship six months ago at East Lake. He was tied for the lead with Justin Rose going into the final round. McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk were three shots behind, and Woods was another shot back. Snedeker had never won from the front, and he showed something that day. He closed with a 68 to win by three and claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Since then, he has been asked at every stop if he splurged on anything. The answer remains no. Snedeker didn't even buy a new car. He started a foundation with his wife, Mandy, to help the underprivileged children in the Nashville area.

But he did tap into the experience of winning the FedEx Cup.

''I think when I play my best golf, my best golf is some of the best in the world,'' Snedeker said after winning the Tour Championship.

That's how he feels now.

He wasn't as good as Woods at Torrey Pines, or as good as Mickelson in Phoenix. Golf is about giving yourself chances, and that's what Snedeker is doing better than anyone at the moment. He has been in the top three in six of his last nine tournaments, including four out of six starts this year.

As he rapped putts in the chill of the morning Saturday at Pebble Beach, one longtime observer involved in plenty of big moments watched him and said, ''This guy is winning a major this year.''

Snedeker already has flirted with that twice. He tied for third in the 2008 Masters and last year in the British Open, when he had the 36-hole lead.

His next crack is in two months at Augusta National, where Snedeker made the cut as an amateur in 2004 and famously sobbed into a white towel in 2008 after enduring four hours of brilliance and blunder, his emotions all over the place.

''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 far-fetched idea. It's very much a reality,'' Snedeker said. ''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.

''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,'' he said. ''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.''

Getty Images

Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

Getty Images

Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

Getty Images

Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”