AUGUSTA — Brandt Snedeker has almost been in this position before. Not exactly, but very close.
Snedeker is tied for the lead at the Masters Tournament after carding a third-round 69. That has him at 7-under 209 for the tournament, tied with Angel Cabrera on top of the leaderboard.
In the 2008 Masters, Snedeker was in second place after the second and third rounds. The Nashville, Tenn., native had a good chance to win the green jacket before he was undone on the back nine.
Snedeker posted a final-round 77 that left him tied for third and reduced him to tears over the missed opportunity.
“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008,” Snedeker said. “I had no gameplan, no idea of when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, how to play this golf course the way you’re supposed to play it. I have a completely clear focus of what I need to do (today), clear set of goals that I need to hit. If I do that, I have a chance to win this golf tournament.”
Snedeker’s gameplan includes playing the par 5s well and getting good drives off the tee.
“If you’re going to play well at Augusta National, par 5s are very, very key,” said Snedeker, who noted that his drives have to be good because he’s not long enough to afford trouble in the first cut of rough. “If I drive the ball in the fairway and play the par 5s well (today), I’m going to have a really good day.”
At the start of the 2013 season, that seemed to be all Snedeker was having. Fresh off a victory in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of 2012, Snedeker was playing the best the best golf of anybody on the PGA Tour at the start of this year’s campaign.
He opened with a third-place finish in the Hyundai Tournament, followed by a 23rd-place tie in the Humana Challenge. After that was when he really got hot.
Snedeker was second in the Farmers Insurance Open and the Phoenix Open, followed by an impressive win in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“The first part of the season, I was healthy, playing great, nothing was wrong,” Snedeker said. “And then I got hurt and had to start pretty much from scratch again.”
Snedeker was referring to an injury in his left rib cage. That forced him to withdraw from a number of events and sidelined him for six weeks all together. Since returning from the injury, primarily to prepare for Augusta National, Snedeker hasn’t had the same success.
He missed the cut in both events he played leading up to the Masters, failing to play on the weekend in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Houston Open. Although the results weren’t there and he slipped to No. 5 in the World Golf Ranking, Snedeker was pleased with the progress of his health. His approach is paying dividends this week and he admitted he almost is where he was prior to the injury.
“I feel not quite back to the way I was, but I feel very, very close to where I was. The confidence is coming back, everything,” Snedeker said. “So getting that feeling back, the momentum back, like I did early in the year, I feel like my golf swing is getting back to the way it was. My short game is in really good stead and I’m excited. I’m fresh I’m mentally fresh and physically fresh, and you know, this is what I’ve worked my whole life for.”
Snedeker was flawless on his scorecard Saturday. He had a bogey-free round, that saw him open with a dozen consecutive pars. While he got hot on the backside to move to the top of the leaderboard, Snedeker said it was his ability to avoid trouble and quickly recover from mistakes that has him poised for another run at a green jacket. He pointed out he was able to avoid bogies on Nos. 3, 4 and 12 by getting up-and-down each time. Evading green numbers gave Snedeker momentum and confidence. When he missed, he missed in spots that he could recover from and allowed him to manage his round. That meant he could take chances when the opportunity was there, but he never forced shots and took what the course – with difficult pin placements – gave him.
“The course is extremely difficult. … It was a very quiet day out there. I didn’t hear a lot of roars,” Snedeker said, referencing the lack of patron reaction to low scores. “Patience was obviously the word of the week every week. Y’all get tired of hearing it, but I can’t underscore how important that is around this place. I realize that – I think I made 12 straight pars to start the day, that’s not a bad score. I don’t care what you say, on this golf course, 12 straight pars is a good way to start the day. … I realized that, just stayed patient, waited for something good to happen and it did.”
That approach could work again today. It certainly won’t hurt Snedeker, who saw his chances of winning in 2008 end when he tried to be aggressive on No. 17 in the final round and ended up in the water. That was a lesson learned for Snedeker, who’s zeroed in on the final round, which he’ll tee off playing with Cabrera in the final pairing at 2:40 p.m.
“I’ve spent 32 years of my life getting ready for (today) and it’s all been a learning process and I am completely, 100 percent sure that I’m ready to handle no matter what happens,” said Snedeker, who’s adamant their are no silver linings or moral victories to be had. “I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t win, period. I’m not here to get a good finish. I’m not here to finish Top‑5. I’m here to win and that’s all I’m going to be focused on (today). I realize what I have to do to do that and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that that happens.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.