Lifetime of preparation, work gets Snedeker in position for breakthrough
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Brandt Snedeker has a score to settle with Augusta National.
Five years ago the affable Tenneseean played in the final group on Sunday, the pairing that has produced 19 of the last 22 Masters champions, and shot a 77 that sent him home to Nashville tail-tucked and tearful. As he struggled to come to grips with the abject disappointment of that day, Snedeker had talked about how hard it was to put so much effort into something and get so little out of it.
"But it's just part of life, part of growing up," he said quietly. "Obviously I need a lot of more of that."
So Snedeker toughed it out and toughened up. He came into his own last year when he won twice on the way to capturing the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus. He was the hottest player on the planet earlier this year, too, winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after finishing second the two previous weeks, before being sidelined by a nagging rib injury.
And now Snedeker finds himself back in the final group on Sunday at the 77th Masters Tournament. He's not just older chronologically, he's grown as a golfer -- just as he knew he needed to do.
"I've spent 32 years of my life getting ready for tomorrow 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 tomorrow," Snedeker said. "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 five. I'm here to win and that's all I'm going to be focused on tomorrow."
Snedeker will have plenty of time to zero in on his goal, too. He and Angel Cabrera -- the only other player who has broken par every day -- won't tee off until 2:40 p.m. ET. The greens will be fierce and firm; the birdies hard to come by.
Snedeker admits he had "no clue" what he was doing as he tried to overtake Trevor Immelman that Sunday in 2008. No sense of when to take chances at Augusta National and when to settle for par; no strategy on where to miss it when the driver has gone awry.
Huck Finn's alter ego certainly has clarity now, though. Snedeker spent last week in Sea Island, Ga., fine-tuning his swing until he could turn the ball over consistently to assure his misses went right because then "you've got a chance" at Augusta National, the 32-year-old explained.
"For me I've got to drive the ball well," said Snedeker, who has hit 81 percent of his fairways so far this week, including all but one on Friday. "I don't hit it far enough to play from the rough around here. If I drive the ball in the fairway and play the par 5s well tomorrow, I'm going to have a really good day."
Snedeker's had three of those so far this week. He patiently reeled off 12 straight pars on Saturday before making birdie on both back-nine par 5s as well as the iconic 16th where so many memorable putts have fallen. And that's what Snedeker, who ranks 10th on TOUR in strokes gained putting, does so well.
"If you don't putt well here, you're not going to play well," Snedeker said. "I spent a lot of time over the weekend and a big part of this week putting, just making sure I'm comfortable on these greens and hopefully it's paid off so far."
Snedeker says he is "very close" to being the player he was at the start of the 2013 campaign. His confidence is returning. His short game is sharp. He knows the two missed cuts that preceeded this trip to Augusta National were an abberation rather than the norm.
"I'm not Tiger Woods. I'm not a Rory McIlroy," Snedeker said. "I'm not going to be a guy that makes a hundred cuts in a row or be an overpowering player. I'm going to be a guy that goes through up and downs, and I realize that. So try to minimize the downs and maximize the ups is all I can do."
In some ways those doctor's orders issued back in February might have worked in Snedeker's favor. He had played five of the first six weeks of the season and contended in four of those events. He was drained. He needed to rest even though he was playing the best golf of his career.
So Snedeker took his college sweetheart Mandy and their two young children to Hawaii for some R&R. He later passed up the first two World Golf Championships events of the season, among others, to let his ribs heal. Once he got the go-ahead to resume practicing, Sneds was ready -- mentally as well as physically -- just as he is for what could be a career-defining date on Sunday.
"This is what I've worked my whole life for is tomorrow," Snedeker said.
And Sunday we'll see how much he's grown.