Once invites for the Masters go out, players are allowed to play as many practice rounds as they want and Snedeker took full advantage of that privilege before his debut back in 2004.
And then some.
I was out of school, had not turned pro yet, he said. They almost changed the rule the next year because of me, because I was down here every day. I wore it out. I thought, `How many times can I have a membership at Augusta National for four months?
All those rounds are paying off. In only his second trip to the Masters, Snedeker has put himself in contention for lifetime privileges. After a 2-under 70 Saturday, hes two strokes behind leader Trevor Immelman and will play in the final group Sunday.
It kind of feels more like a home event for me, Snedeker said. I feel like a lot of the guys in the crowd are cheering me on, and its a good feeling.
Snedeker earned his first trip to the Masters three years ago after winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship. He was already somewhat familiar with Augusta National, having played it once a year with the rest of the Vanderbilt team. Once he got his official invite, though, he practically took up residence.
Hed pile into his car Thursday for the 5 1/2 -hour drive, and get in two rounds before dark. Then hed play another two rounds Friday. By the time the tournament rolled around, he had played 40 to 50 rounds.
It paid off when he made the cut, finished tied for 41st, and turned pro the next day.
What better scenario could you have to come out and play this course as many times as you wanted to? Snedeker said. It was great, just getting to know the golf course and getting over the whole aura of it is a lot.
But it surely raised some eyebrows among the members, who are politely discouraged from playing here too often.
Its hard to hold anything against the happy-go-lucky Snedeker. Especially when hes playing as well as he has this week.
He was in trouble with three straight bogeys on the back nine, and it looked as if his nerves and inexperience might finally be getting the best of him. He botched his tee shots on 11 and 12, then plunked his second shot in the creek on 13. But his PGA Tour rookie of the year award last year wasnt a fluke, and he closed with three birdies in his last five holes, including one on 18 that put him in the final group with Immelman.
Its a completely different golf course during the Masters, Snedeker said. But theres a familiarity that comes with playing the golf course. Where you know you can miss it, and you know whats not a good spot to miss it and whats an OK spot to miss it and that kind of stuff.
Despite my experience, I still did it on 11, 12, and 13 and still missed it where I wasnt supposed to, Snedeker said. But hopefully that will pay off tomorrow.
SECOND CHANCE: Paul Casey is getting a do-over.
The Englishman played so well in his first trip to the Masters that he earned a spot in the second-to-last group Sunday. Playing with two-time champion Bernhard Langer, no less. But it was hardly a memorable finish, and he was knocked out of contention with a 74.
Casey is back in that second-to-last group Sunday, and he hopes that experience in 2004 will keep him from another blowup.
I was very excited, probably a little bit too excited, Casey said Saturday. You know, it was all a bit new to me, and I think thats going to put me in good stead for tomorrow.
Casey shot a 3-under 69 Saturday, putting him four strokes behind leader Trevor Immelman. He was actually atop the leaderboard at one point, getting to 8-under for the tournament with four birdies on the front nine. But he lost ground with three bogeys on the back nine, the final one coming when he missed the green on No. 17.
Still, with back-to-back 69s, he knows he can play Augusta National.
This is some of the best golf Ive'probably the best golf Ive played around Augusta National and I feel very comfortable, he said. Today was a day of up-and-downs, birdies and bogeys, but I take the good out of it. I enjoyed myself out there.
Though Casey grew up in England, he played at Arizona State and plays both the PGA and European tours. He has eight victories in Europe, but hes still looking for his first in the United States.
Augusta National would be a nice place to get it. This is only Caseys fourth trip to the Masters, but he already has two top-10 finishes. He was sixth in 2004 and 10th last year, and has played seven of his 13 rounds below par.
No doubt the golf course suits me down to the ground. I have the necessary shots, Casey said. But there is something about this occasion. When you come down Magnolia Lane, there is nothing else like this and I love it. Its a place at which the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the only other place that does that for me is St. Andrews.
Theres something very cool about this place.
CLOSE SHAVE: What next, Boo Weekley playing in a tuxedo?
Everybodys favorite bumpkin was clean-shaven when he showed up for the third round of the Masters on Saturday morning. He had been sporting a scraggly goatee for his first appearance at stately Augusta National.
My wife kind of told me it kind of started looking hideous, Weekley said. Shes like, `Its time to either trim it up or take it off. I didnt have no trimmers with me, so I just went ahead and took it off.
Weekleys scorecard looked much better Saturday, too. After shooting 72-74 in the first two rounds and flirting with the cut, Weekley tied Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods for low round of the day with a 4-under 68. At 2-under for the tournament, hes tied for seventh though hes nine strokes behind Trevor Immelman.
Were still focusing on fairways and hitting the center of the greens and letting everybody else mess up. Thats the way I look at it, Weekley said.
Weekleys only bogey came on the par-4 11th, when he missed a 3-footer to save par. Yet he still managed to charm the crowd with it.
After tapping in, Weekley fished the ball out of the cup and flipped it, behind his back, into the pond. It was the kind of move Magic Johnson would love, and the crowd applauded politely.
TOUGH PAIRING: Stewart Cink drew golfs equivalent of the short straw.
Somebody has to play with Tiger Woods when hes in contention at a major, and its Cinks turn on Sunday. As if being paired with the best player in the world isnt intimidating enough, theres a circuslike atmosphere that surrounds Woods at every hole.
Its rattled more than a few of his partners, but Cink swears hes not worried.
I dont know if Ive ever played with him on Sunday here before, but Ive played with him plenty of times here and this year Ive played with him a few times on Sunday. Hes good to play with, said Cink, who is at 4-under, one stroke behind Woods and seven behind leader Trevor Immelman.
Cinks best finish at the Masters is 10th in 2006. His best finish at a major is third, at the 2001 U.S. Open and the 1999 PGA Championship.
I always say if youre playing with him on the weekend, youre doing something right, Cink said.
DIVOTS: This years purse is $7.5 million, with the winner getting a check for $1.35 million. The final pairing will feature the PGA Tours last two rookie of the year winners. Immelman won it in 2006, Snedeker in 2007. Play was delayed because of rain for 45 minutes Saturday afternoon. Thirteen players in the 44-person field shot under par Saturday.