The hottest player in golf finally has something to show for it.
Twice a runner-up already this season to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker reversed his fortunes Sunday and instead became a resilient winner. Playing his first seven holes in 5 under, Snedeker built an early lead, cruised to a two-shot victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and rose to a career-best fourth in the world ranking.
“It’s kind of crazy to think what’s happened in the last four months,” he said afterward. “To win at Pebble Beach on a beautiful day playing with a good friend of mine from Nashville, Tenn., you can’t make this stuff up. It’s too perfect.”
Tiger Woods may be 1-for-1 on the 2013 PGA Tour, but Snedeker’s early resume is unrivaled. He hasn’t finished worse than 23rd in his past eight starts, and his final-round 65 Sunday continued an incredible run with 16 of his last 17 rounds in the 60s. He also became the first player since 1990 to finish runner-up in back-to-back weeks, then win his third start.
Strangely enough, this torrid stretch can be traced back to the PGA Championship, where Snedeker missed the cut. After that early exit, he committed to improving his ball-striking, most notably his accuracy off the tee. (Last year he was 106th in driving accuracy and, consequently, 126th in greens in regulation.) Apparently he’s a quick learner: After a few close calls in the playoffs, Snedeker claimed the biggest prize in golf in winning both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup title.
“The confidence I gained from there,” he said earlier this week, “I definitely took it into this year and realized how good I can be.”
In four starts this season, he ranked 19th in fairways hit (65.8) and 11th in greens in regulation – and it still wasn’t good enough to win. At Torrey Pines he lost by four to Woods, who practically owns the place. And at TPC Scottsdale he ran into a red-hot Mickelson, who nearly shattered scoring records at every turn. He also finished third at Kapalua.
Snedeker was tied for the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach with James Hahn, a 31-year-old Tour rookie who gained YouTube fame for his “Gangnam Style” celebration last week in Phoenix. In other words, unlike the last two weeks, Snedeker didn’t need to chase down players with Hall of Fame credentials.
And it didn’t take long for Snedeker to create some separation. He knocked in a 4-foot eagle on the second hole, then added birdies at Nos. 4, 6 and 7 before a three-putt bogey on the ninth gave him a three-shot lead as he made the turn. He rebounded with long-range birdies on the next two holes, extending his advantage to four with seven to play.
Snedeker eventually finished at a tournament-record 19-under 267, two shots ahead of Chris Kirk (66).
“Finishing off a tournament like this with the lead gives me a ton of confidence going into The Masters, U.S. Open, all the great venues we have this year,” Snedeker said. “That’s next on my list. I’ve won five times out here. The most important thing now is winning majors.”