Co-leaders Hahn, Snedeker to take different approaches into Sunday finale

February 09, 2013
Helen Ross,

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The half-dozen or so reporters who had stayed to squeeze a few more quotes out of James Hahn on Saturday evening probably thought he was indulging in a bit of reverse psychology. 

The amiable PGA TOUR rookie was talking about how he didn't feel any pressure entering the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am even though he was tied for the lead. After all, joining Hahn in the final group on Sunday is Brandt Snedeker, who leads the FedExCup standings after finishing second the last two weeks and third in the season-opener.

"He's the hottest guy in golf right now," Hahn said with a smile and a shrug, rattling off Snedeker's credentials like the announcer on the first tee. "... I picked him to win this tournament. No one is expecting me to win. I root for the underdog but I still think he's going to win."

The funny thing is, Hahn wasn't joking or pandering to the crowd of scribes. He really did predict Snedeker would win on Tuesday during a Google+ Hangout session with fans on PGATOUR.COM.

Not that it was a leap or anything.

Snedeker's 68 on Saturday was his 17th sub-par score in his last 18 rounds. He's 75 under this year, for goodness sakes. He's just run into the two greatest players of his generation -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- at the top of their games in each of the last two weeks.

Ask Snedeker what it feels like to be in the zone, though, and he demurs. He'll tell you he's not hitting everything pure. He's not walking off satisfied with every round, either -- not with the occasional "really horrific" shots, his words, not ours, that have put him in survival mode.

What Snedeker is doing, though, is playing smart. He points to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, circa 2000, and the way they were able to manage their games and get the most out of every round. 

"The days I haven't been hitting it great, I've put it in spots where I can minimize my mistakes," Snedeker said simply. "The days I have been hitting it good, I've been going after pins and making a lot of birdies."

Simple, right? With 15 players within five strokes of the lead he shares with Hahn, though, Snedeker knows he can't afford to be complacent on Sunday. Remember Mickelson's victory here a year ago? He came from six strokes back with a final-round 64 and the big lefthander, whose bid for a successful title defense all but ended when he hit two balls into the Pacific at 18 on Saturday, chimed in with a word of caution.

"Certainly he's been playing great golf these last couple of weeks ... and it looks like this could be his week," Mickelson said. "But final round at Pebble Beach, a lot of things happen and he has to play one more good round. I know he has it in him, but he still has to go do it."

At the same time, Snedeker doesn't need to come out firing like he did at Torrey Pines or TPC Scottsdale each of the last two weeks. He learned the value of patience when he took a share of the lead into the final round of last year's TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola after winning his other three PGA TOUR events coming from behind. 

"I think when you have a lead, you almost need to be more patient than you typically play and give yourself a little bit more lax, or a little bit more credit for how you have played," Snedeker said. "... The last three days I've been very smart, pick my spots when to be aggressive, play away from certain pins and leave it on the proper side of holes, and I've been doing a pretty good job of that and hopefully I can keep doing that tomorrow."

The precocious Hahn, on the other hand, has never found himself in the final group in his short PGA TOUR career, which now includes five made cuts and a tie for fourth in Palm Springs. But just like Snedeker eschewing the in-the-zone references, the 31-year-old Korean-American said he's not playing the best golf of his career right now.

Hahn does feel comfortable, though, with his older brother Tom on the bag this week and Stephanie, his bride of one year, among the many friends in his gallery. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and went to college at Cal-Berkeley so the support system is sure to grow on Sunday.

"It's kind of which came first, the chicken or the egg; and I have fun when I'm playing well, but I also play well when I'm having fun," Hahn said. "I try to psyche myself up and have fun a little bit and (see) if that carries over to my golf -- and it has over the last couple weeks.

"I'm putting the ball really well. I feel like my attitude on the golf course is better than it has been in recent years, and not getting so frustrated out there; just kind of enjoying the moment. I keep saying that, but it's a blast to be inside the ropes and a member of the PGA TOUR."

Hahn gave fans a glimpse of his personality last Sunday when he celebrated a birdie at the wild and wonderful 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale with a Gangnam Style dance that would have made its originator, the Korean hip-hop artist, Psy, jealous. The gyrations went viral and even spawned a limited edition T-shirt created by his clothing company, Travis Mathew.

Who knows how Hahn might celebrate a victory come Sunday. He knows better than to go there, though. He's not even exempt into next week's Northern Trust Open right now so Hahn doesn't plan to get ahead of himself. 

"I feel like winning the golf tournament is almost out of my control," Hahn said. "... I feel like the only thing I'm in control of is what I do on the golf course, and if it's good enough, then you know, I'd be very happy hoisting the trophy at the end of the week. But for me it's all learning experience."

And Hahn will have a really good teacher with him in the final group.