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February 6 2013

5:30 PM

How good can Snedeker be?

Brandt Snedeker looks to continue his hot play this week in Pebble Beach. (Dunn/Getty Images)

By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

Over the last eight starts on the PGA TOUR no one has been better than Brandt Snedeker.

A bold statement yes, but golf is all about numbers and Snedeker’s don’t lie: One win, three runner-up finishes (most of any player; two of them coming in his last two starts), five top-5 finishes (most of any player), one finish outside the top 25.

Not enough for you?

Snedeker has the lowest stroke average on TOUR since the start of last year’s FedExCup Playoffs at 68.29 with 28 of his 31 rounds under par for a combined 98-under par.

Of his last 13 rounds this season, 12 of them have been south of 70. He’s first in birdie average, first in the FedExCup standings and second in scoring average to Charles Howell III by a tenth of a stroke. (Howell, by the way, has enjoyed his own fantastic start to the season, but Snedeker’s case runs a little deeper).

It’s hard to say this could be a breakout year for a guy who won twice in 2012, captured the FedExCup and is currently sixth in the world. But we would also be remiss to chalk him up as just another good player on a hot streak.

Six years ago, Snedeker was named Rookie of the Year. Now the 32-year-old looks to be on the verge of something special in a progression not all that different from, say, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s.

Much like Flacco's prior failures in the playoffs before an MVP performance in the Super Bowl, Snedeker has endured his own share of major heartbreak, first at the 2008 Masters then the 2012 British Open. Each was ripe for Snedeker's taking before he shot a final-round 77 at Augusta National and closed with rounds of 73-74 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Flacco went from good to very good to elite, and Snedeker could be on a similar path. This year, he hasn’t even hit full stride because the strongest part of his game -- putting -- has in fact not been that. He ranks 25th in strokes gained-putting, compared to No. 1 last season and in the top four in two of the last four.

But Snedeker has improved in other areas this year -- he moved from 109th in driving accuracy to 19th and from 132nd in greens in regulation to 11th.

In 2012, he ranked 121st in approach shots from 125-150 yards; 167th from 100-125 yards; and 111th from 75-100 yards. In the season-opener at Kapalua, he was eighth, fourth and 15th, respectively.

Most of the latter was because Snedeker worked hard on his distance control and even harder to stick to the old addage of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. “I just had the best year of my career and feel like I'm doing everything the right way, so why would I want to change anything?” Snedeker told me. “I think my golf swing is as good as it's ever been.”

As one coach described him, Snedeker swings the club and plays golf like a kid but has an underlying determination to win every time he tees it up. Which is to say he oozes natural talent and has a burning desire to be great.

As his own coach of the last seven years, Todd Anderson, described him, Snedeker has had a steady improvement and maturation from a physical and mental standpoint.

"He practices a lot smarter than he used to and knows what he needs to work on," Anderson said. "He's done a very good job at balancing everything and has a lot of talent and a great work ethic."

Not that Snedeker considers himself in the class of the elite, and there is some merit to his point.

“You have to win majors and win tournaments to be recognized as an elite player,” Snedeker said. “I haven't done nearly enough of that.”

Not yet, anyway.

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