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Tiger … Rory … Sneds?
While that sentence sounds like Entry A in the "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other" contest, we may need to start re-evaluating our estimation of one Brandt Snedeker, age 32, hometown of Nashville, Tenn. No, Snedeker hasn't won a major championship. But what he has done is seal the deal as hottest player on Earth since last August, and that's not even a question.
On Sunday, on one of those reverie-inducing, blue-sky Pebble Beach days in which Mother Nature reminded us of the old Ronald Reagan line, "If the Pilgrims landed in California, the East would still be wilderness," Snedeker played golf as beautiful as his surroundings.
By carving out a Sunday 65 at the famed links, and by sealing a two-stroke win over Chris Kirk, Snedeker left Pebble Beach with the following résumé:
Nine starts since last August. Two wins, including the $11.4 million payday at the Tour Championship and accompanying FedEx Cup title. Six of those nine starts resulted in top-three finishes, including back-to-back seconds in the previous two weeks. Eleven of his last 12 rounds have scored in the 60s. His four PGA Tour wins since 2011 tie him with Tiger, and trail only Rory McIlroy, who has five.
And when he did drop that résumé onto the desk of a skeptical golf world before leaving Pebble, it came with the title page:
"ANY QUESTIONS? By Brandt Snedeker."
I guess the only question left for the newly minted fourth-ranked player in the world is: Can we consider him on a Tiger-Rory level as the 2013 season unfolds?
The obvious answer is no way, right? After all, we've seen great stretches of golf from players like Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in the past few years, and neither has yet to scale Mount Major. Same goes for Jason Dufner last year, when he tore off two wins and a runner-up in a four-start binge last spring. He, like Sneds, remains major-less.
There have been major rumblings, though. Five years ago, fresh off a 2007 Rookie of the Year campaign, Snedeker made a serious run at the Masters. He made it to the final pairing with eventual winner Trevor Immelman on Sunday, and wound up tied for third after a final-round 77. He shed tears, but was only 27 years old and full of promise with his crisp style -- quick to the ball, quick through the ball, a Tom Watson hand action, a deadly putter and a smile as easy as his slight Tennessee drawl, ever-present under his wavy hair tucked into a visor. It was hard not to like Brandt Snedeker's game, and the golf world was eager for more.
But injuries, the eternal "X" factor for top athletes, bit Snedeker. A rib injury got him in 2009; and the Snedeker you watched shredding Pebble Beach on Sunday is a player who has endured two hip surgeries in the past two years. Still, he was the halfway leader at last year's British Open before settling for a tie for third, then launched into this incredible stretch of golf in the last six months.
If he's not Tiger/Rory yet, it'll be fun to watch the career arc, for sure. He says he's primed for the best year of his career, even post-big FedEx payday. While some players play the game as if it's a constant grapple, and others, like Tiger, seethe with a don't-ever-look-at-me-again intensity, Snedeker is a pleasure to view. He's damn good, too. He steps up, he hits it close; he gets to the green, he makes his putts. If only the game were as easy as Snedeker makes it look.
He will take this week off and reappear at the World Match Play, where no rational player wants any piece of him. Like his idols Steve Stricker, David Toms and Jim Furyk, he will rarely implode. Instead, he will dissect you, and drain lots of putts all the while.
In fact, his doppelganger from a previous generation, Watson, tweeted out congratulations to Snedeker on Sunday afternoon. Presumably, the 2014 Ryder Cup captain is already anticipating some Sneds magic for Team USA in Scotland. Wrote Watson: "Brandt, great performance. I wish I had your putting stroke again."
A wistful tribute from a guy who also won at Pebble Beach, at a U.S. Open some 31 years ago. That's not a bad link for Snedeker to ponder as he lets this sizzling surge of golf sink into his brain these next few days.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
71-65-66-70 – 14-under 272, James Hahn, tie-third, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.
If your complaint about modern golf is that the average Tour player has as much personality as a ball washer, you haven't been watching James Hahn ply his trade.
Yes, we all know about the "Gangnam-style" hoofing he did two weeks ago at Phoenix, with nearly a quarter-million YouTube views. Nifty moves, too, considering Hahn told us he'd never practiced Psy's galloping dance moves.
But this 31-year-old former Nordstrom shoe salesman brings way more to the table than the moves of a guy who became globally famous for shouting, "Heyyyyy/Sexy lady!" Hahn can play, and he's an easy guy to get behind.
I bring some bias to this, since Hahn, like me, is a Bay Area product. Born in South Korea and raised in Alameda, Calif., schooled at the University of California at Berkeley, Hahn has a chance to restore some of the lost luster of Bay Area golf. Once the home to legendary champions like Johnny Miller and Ken Venturi and to major winners like George Archer and Tony Lema, the Bay Area hasn't produced a home-grown Tour winner since Arron Oberholser won at Pebble Beach in 2006.
(Plus, his wife is an avowed San Francisco Giants fan who listens to our radio show daily in San Francisco, but I'll try to let that not affect my Hahn fandom.)
Hahn had a chance to join the illustrious Northern California list by earning a spot in the final group on Sunday, and acquitted himself nicely. He made only one bogey en route to a 2-under 70, but couldn't keep up with the runaway train that was Snedeker's golf game. Playing with a smile and an unassailable golf swing, Hahn now has two top-fives in his first five starts in this, his rookie year on Tour after a long journey to get here.
Setting aside Nick Faldo's lame "Hahn … James Hahn" joke at the start of The Golf Channel's coverage on Sunday, let's all venture to cheer on a young man living out a dream after a road to the top that included earning his Realtor's license. Now, he's trodding on some pretty sweet real estate for a day's work – final group at Pebble Beach. Nicely done, dude.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"What about the curves off the golf course?" – Clint Eastwood, age 82, to Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander during Saturday's CBS coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Look at Clint, not missing a beat. He may have been born when Herbert Hoover was President, but he's current, and I think we all took Clint's line to acknowledge Verlander's long-rumored romance with two-time Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton. The setup to the line was a reference to Eastwood's recent film, "Trouble With the Curve."
Rimshot, Clint! It will be a sad day when Eastwood no longer brings his raspy-voiced riffs to the CBS weekend coverage. While I'm a Jim Nantz fan, I don't think there's any question the booth can use some bad-ass Clint every now and then to give the broadcast a much-needed edge. Otherwise, we're left with Sir Nick Faldo riffing away on his backstage Grammy experiences while completely ignoring a crazy beautiful aerial shot of migrating whales and calves.
I'd say Clint is at that Estelle-Getty-from-"Golden Girls"-no-filter age in life, but Clint's never been a guy to be P.C., anyway. It was 15 years ago when he dismissed golfers complaining about the rain as "candy asses"; and he was right.
As usual, the Saturday coverage was heavy on celebrities, and while I know many golf fans stick their index finger down their throat when CBS spends precious golf time breaking down Clay Walker's shoulder turn, we can have fun for one day, right? Especially if it involves more Clint – and shots of Bill Murray, too, who brought back the always popular Rutherford B. Hayes facial hair to Pebble Beach.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
The great thing about Phil Mickelson is, he's Phil Mickelson.
Last week in this space, I apologized to Lefty for doubting his relevance. His Phoenix romp showed he's still got gas in the tank, and he came to Pebble Beach looking to defend his title and build on the momentum he said his new Callaway driver bequeathed him.
Instead, he wound up turning the famed 18th hole at Pebble Beach into a one-man car crash.
Arriving at the 18th on Saturday at 4-under, and thinking a birdie could plant him on the edge of contention on Sunday, Mickelson instead used said driver to pump a drive into Stillwater Cove. Worse, when he went to look for his ball, he slipped on some mossy rocks and landed on his considerable, if tax-lessened, wallet. So, in addition to losing a golf ball, he added a bruised tailbone and pride.
He never found his ball, dropped a new ball, and proceeded to pump that one into the salt water, too. He made a triple bogey "8" and wound up finishing tied for 60th. For good measure, he doubled 18 on Sunday after driving another golf ball into the den of the sea lions. So much for that "my-new-driver-has-given-me-salvation" chatter from Lefty. But again, that's the beauty of Lefty. Maybe it has, maybe it hasn't. We'll never know, at least until Augusta National.
So, for the sake of Phil's injured backside, and to save him the humiliation of the mossy-rocked slip-up, let's go back out to the 18th hole on Saturday, remind Phil how much he loves his new driver, remind him he has four wins at the AT&T and was gunning for Mark O'Meara's five wins and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I love the West Coast Swing. We go from Pebble Beach to Riviera, which is like going from a Bing Crosby vocal to a Humphrey Bogart movie. No back-to-back stops on Tour are as drop-dead cool as this double-dip, so I'm delighted to see the big names like Phil and Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson and Fred Couples playing this week.
So is Dustin Johnson, who just finished a weird week at Pebble Beach. He played with his girlfriend's dad, who happens to be Wayne Gretzky. And he missed the cut. In addition to hearing the old man use those long AT&T waits on the tee box to say things like, "So, what are your intentions with my daughter Paulina," Johnson has gone missed cut (Sony), tie-51st (Phoenix), missed cut (Pebble) since winning at Kapalua. He better get going, lest Wayne start telling Paulina that the young man she's dating may not have much of a future as an earner.
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