Without the aid of a lifeline or a scrambling Google search, name the top two Americans in the Official World Golf Ranking not named Tiger or Phil?
If you answered Matt Kuchar (No. 6) and Brandt Snedeker (seventh) proceed to the collection window and, as an aside, you might want to consider spending a little bit more time outdoors or with the kids.
As for the rest of us, consider that it’s been that way since the start of the major championship season in April, a fact that is as enlightening as it is apropos considering that with slight variations the duo are very much the same make and model.
Neither would likely cause much of a stir if they showed up unannounced at say, the Akron (Ohio) Zoo, which is where Snedeker celebrated his Canadian Open victory on Tuesday with his family.
Nor does either player have the flash and front-page appeal of their high-profile top-10 stable mates Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, a product of their demeanor and DNA more so than their professional body of work.
There is a theme here: both players are relatively understated family men who can kill you with competitive kindness. Combined, America’s discrete duo has four victories and four runner-up showings in 2013, rank second and third on the FedEx Cup points list and have missed just four cuts in 33 collective starts.
On Thursday’s star-studded tee sheet at Firestone there may be other players with higher Q ratings but few with the potential to dominate courses from Akron to Augusta, Ga., like Kuchar and Snedeker, thanks to a combination of clutch putting and low-risk tee-to-green play.
At the highest level, the “grip it and rip it” generation has given way to playing the percentages. Look no further than Mickelson’s no-driver victory two weeks ago at the Open Championship to prove the pendulum has swung on Tour to a unique brand of competitive conservatism.
And few play this version of Tour small ball better than Kuchar and Snedeker.
“He is not shooting at as many pins, especially with his longer clubs. If it’s the right number and the pin is in the right spot he can be aggressive,” said Snedeker’s longtime swing coach Todd Anderson. “He’s doing a better job of working his way around the golf course. His short game is so good, but he is realizing he is going to make a lot more 20- or 30-footers that way and just giving himself a chance.”
For Snedeker, the slow-and-steady approach has resulted in drastic improvements in his ball-striking. He’s up 109 spots, and five percentage points, in greens in regulation over his 2012 numbers, and 81 spots in the ball-striking category to 61st.
Kuchar wields a similar no-frills approach tee shot to green, and yet is fifth on Tour in actual scoring average (70.14).
“If (Snedeker) misses a shot, he's going to be able to score by getting up-and-down and making a putt. He's certainly a force to be reckoned with,” Kuchar said Sunday in Canada, although as the words hung in the air he may as well have been talking about himself.
At Glen Abbey on Sunday the blue collar duo was at their best, finishing first and second on a day that Snedeker admits he didn’t have his best stuff. The reigning FedEx Cup champion went so far as to replace his new TaylorMade SLDR driver, which Anderson said is hotter than his older model but not as accurate, with his trusty Burner SuperFast version.
Among the play-for-pay types control is the new category leader – consider that this year’s driving average on Tour is 287.4 yards, the lowest it’s been since 2010 – and Kooch and Sneds are the tempered trailblazers.
In practical terms, risk aversion can be quantified via the Tour’s proximity to the hole statistic. For Kuchar, his average approach shot is 33 ½ feet from the hole, while Snedeker is slightly better at 32 ½ feet. That’s not exactly throwing darts but when you putt as well as the American two-ball it beats spending a round on the short side of every hole location.
Of course, the next step for both players is getting on the Grand Slam board. Both have had their chances – Snedeker went off in the final group on Sunday this year at Augusta National and Kuchar came up two shots short a year earlier at the Masters.
“The more times you put yourself in that situation you understand what you need to do to take that next step,” Anderson said. “Brandt has done it three or four times now; he is realizing what he has to do. He didn’t have his best game in Canada but was able to score well. He needs to learn that at a major.”
The word around the caddie yard is that Oak Hill, site of next week’s PGA Championship, will be a typical major venue, with brutally long rough and even longer holes. But before we dismiss the year’s final major as a bomber’s bout – even Mickelson admitted this week he’s thinking about taking the driver off the shelf – consider that 2003 PGA champion Shaun Micheel ranked a pedestrian 66th on Tour in driving distance when he began his week at the Donald Ross design.
Snedeker and Kuchar may not be the flashiest members of golf’s marquee, but both are one major away from changing that.