Monday Backspin: Snedeker learns from Donald, hopes to follow path

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February 11, 2013
Brian Wacker,

Two years ago, Brandt Snedeker beat Luke Donald in a playoff to win the RBC Heritage. In the seasons that followed Donald would rise to No. 1 in the world, and Snedeker would take notice.

"That had a big impact on Brandt," Snedeker's longtime coach Todd Anderson said via cell phone Sunday night after the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

What Snedeker saw was that if Donald -- another great putter who isn't particularly long off the tee -- could become the best player in the world, so could he.

Snedeker's not there yet, but almost no one has played better than the 32-year-old Tennessean over the last 12 months. Only Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have more victories in that span, and Snedeker has a win, two runner-up finishes and a third in four of his five starts this year that has him atop the FedExCup standings and up to No. 4 in the world behind only McIlroy, Woods and Donald.

"The biggest difference between this year and last is that he believe in himself a lot more," Anderson said of Snedeker. "He trusts what he's doing."

Part of that belief stems from the work Snedeker, one of the more analytical and intelligent players you'll find on the PGA TOUR, has put in. Snedeker knows his strengths, how to play to them and the courses he can succeed on.

For example, a couple of years ago he dumped his 3-iron, strengthened his 4-iron and added an extra wedge. Then there's his putting. Last year he led the TOUR. This year, he's dipped to 19th. That's misleading, though, because Snedeker is also hitting more greens in regulation, ranking sixth compared to 126th (a jump of nearly 14 percent in greens hit).

"I like his chances a lot better putting from 25 feet than him having to hit a lob shot from off the green," Anderson said. "He's always been a very aggressive player, but he's more patient now."

Snedeker also avoided the trap of changing his swing or equipment, the way others have in an effort to get better. He literally changed nothing, except maybe his outlook.

Said Anderson, "He came into the year not hoping to play well, he expected to."

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"It seems like over the last three months, I've been waking up in a dream world." -- Brandt Snedeker following his win Sunday in what in reality has been one of the best stretches of golf in a long time.

"I learned that he is a better guy than he is a golfer. The dude is world class. He's obviously one of the best, if not the best golfer right now, and possibly for the last year." -- Rookie James Hahn on what he learned playing alongside Brandt Snedeker.

"Somebody asked me, 'How did it compare to diplomacy?' And I said, 'Well, I know how to do diplomacy, I'm not so sure about the golf course.'" -- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after the opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, during which she hit a woman in the head on an errant shot on the sixth hole.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@TomWatsonPGA: Brandt, great performance. Wish I had your putting stroke again

@ZachJohnsonPGA: Congrats Sneds. Dang. Slow down. It's a long season.

@IanJamesPoulter
: I think Sneds has won about $19,000,000 dollars in his last 9 tournaments. Need a bigger safe Sneds.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. After Brandt Snedeker’s victory and post-round press conference Sunday night, there was a neat moment as he quickly signed one flag after another. (Would you expect the pace to be any different than that of his game?) Snedeker was talking about his relationship with Tom Watson, how Watson’s been a hero of his for a long time and how he couldn’t wait to see him at the Masters and how he hopes to play on his Ryder Cup team next year. Told that Watson tweeted that he wished he had Snedeker’s putting stroke, Snedeker looked up and said, "I wish I had his golf swing."

2. Nerves certainly looked to be a factor for James Hahn on Sunday. The putts don’t always drop but he looked either too amped up or perhaps felt the pressure, missing a 7-footer for eagle on No. 2, a 5-footer for birdie on No. 3 and a 9-footer for birdie on the par-5 sixth. “You miss a couple early, the hole starts shrinking on you,” Hahn said. “I need to work on my putting. (Snedeker) rolled them in early. I didn't, and he rolled them in late, and I didn't.”

3. Phil Mickelson seemed as perplexed as the rest of us by his performance at Pebble Beach, a venue where he’s won four times and only a year ago shot a final-round 64. This year, he broke 70 just once and finished 60th. “Just a little bit off on the greens, just a little bit off with the driving, just a little bit off with the irons,” Mickelson said after a third-round 73 that included a snowman on the 18th hole. It wasn’t much better Sunday with Mickelson making a 7 on the final hole after finding the water again. “I don't know,” Mickelson continued when asked if he could pinpoint the problem. “I wish I did.  It would be easier to fix.”

4. Seven months ago, Retief Goosen’s L3 and L4 discs in his back were completely disintegrated. He underwent surgery last August and had a specially created disc made of titanium with a rubber-like middle implanted into his lower back. Fast forward to Sunday at Pebble Beach, where Goosen tied for ninth to earn $175,500 -- enough to fulfill his major medical extension for the remainder of 2013. Not bad for a guy who was sidelined for 4 1/2 months while he recovered. “I didn't really have much choice but to go for disc replacement,” he said. “I feel great.  I feel like I got a lot better chance of playing better now than I did the last couple of years just because the way I feel.” It’s early, but don’t be surprised if Goosen is in the mix at the U.S. Open at Merion, a short course by USGA standards and one that in some ways is not all that different from the two U.S. Open venues he’s won on.

5. Last week was the last chance for players to secure a spot in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. To that end, Shane Lowry snuck in over Fredrik Jacobson by .0002 points in the Official World Golf Ranking (only the top 64 qualify). Another player in the field? Charles Howell III, who looks like he'll draw his old buddy Tiger Woods in the opening round in a sort of redux of their 1996 match in the U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge (though the seedings aren't finalized until after this week's Northern Trust Open).

6. Stat of the Week I: In 19 rounds this season, Snedeker has shot in the 60s 16 times and 18 of his rounds have been under par. It’s no wonder he’s contended almost every week.

7. Stat of the Week II: It’s more like the stat of the last six months with Snedeker a cumulative 125 under in his last 10 starts on TOUR. Of that, he’s 82 under in five starts this season.

8. Stat of the Week III: In 2012, just 16 of 44 leaders going into the final day held on to win. This year, the trend has reversed with four of five leaders winning. Why the difference? Part of it is experience with Snedeker, Mickelson, Tiger Woods and to some extent even Russell Henley having been there before.

9. For those of you keeping track of the amateur leaderboard at Pebble Beach, this year marked the ninth time that a player and his pro-am title in the same year (D.A. Points and Bill Murray were the last to do it in 2011). This year, it was Snedeker and longtime friend and investor Toby Wilt, who has played hundreds of rounds with Snedeker back in Tennessee. Said Snedeker: "He knew what to say when I was kind of hurting and not playing my best, and he knew what to say when I was playing great.”

Monday Backspin Mailbag
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Is Phoenix and Pebble Beach the best (non-major) two-week stretch on the PGA TOUR schedule? -- Jamie Kennedy

I'll give you this, it's hard to beat in terms of scenery. There are plenty of other great weeks, too, of course. It just depends what you're looking for. One of my my favorites, for example, is the two weeks that include the Travelers Championship and the AT&T National because I grew up about a half-hour from Cromwell, Conn., and Washington D.C. is one of the great cities in America.

What does Phil Mickelson have to do to finally reach No. 1 in the world? -- T. Cochran


For one, play a lot better than he did last week at Pebble Beach. At this point, it would be awfully difficult for Mickelson, currently 10th in the world, to catch Rory McIlroy, who has a sizeable lead over No. 2 Tiger Woods, never mind McIlory

Who had the more impressive win this year: Phil or Tiger? -- Tim Bowers


I'm going to chicken out and call it a tie. Both guys looked impressive en route to winning in Phoenix and San Diego, respectively. They were both in total command and even though Mickelson nearly shot 59, their performances really were that close.

Who is most likely to be a first-time major winner this year? -- Steven Troup


I'm not venturing too far out on a limb when I say Brandt Snedeker. I like his chances at Merion, which, like Harbour Town, has some of the smallest greens he'll see all year. His improved accuracy off the tee and ball-striking could be huge factors there.

Forward Spin: Who I Like This Week
r007_spotlight

I don't know how you top last year's Northern Trust Open, where Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley poured in dramatic birdies on the final hole of regulation to force a playoff ... that was ultimately won by Bill Haas with a 43-foot birdie bomb. One player I like there this week: Graeme McDowell, who's making his 2013 PGA TOUR season debut. It's his first time back at Riviera since 2009, and he doesn't have a great record there (two missed cuts and a tie for 41st). But in the words of Ben Crenshaw, I have a good feeling about this.

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