The Open: Brandt Snedeker breaks from the pack to lead at Royal Lytham
Brandt Snedeker took a look at his lie in the rough on the right-hand side of the final hole here at Lytham and gulped hard at the vision of horror at his feet. He could see a speck of white amid all the green, but only just.
His caddie asked how bad was it. The American replied, “Hmmm.” Sensing the tension, Scott Vail smirked and said, ‘Going for the green?’, a comment that made his man chuckle. Then Snedeker wedged out on to the fairway and got up and down for par, signing for a 64 that was by turns majestic and historic. The American’s halfway total of 130 matches the all-time record previously held on his own by Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992. At one point in the afternoon, the American had a five-shot lead. By the close of play it was down to just one, thanks to the continuing excellence of another man whose Open record is a bit of an abomination. Adam Scott, tooled-up with his long putter, has all the class in the world but has one top-10 finish in his dozen attempts at winning the Claret Jug, but his birdie on the 18th sealed a 67 to go with the 64 of Thursday and put him at 9-under to Snedeker’s 10-under. Tiger Woods chipped in for a birdie at the 18th to lie an ominous four shots off the pace with Paul Lawrie and others are lurking. “We have our work cut out, Brandt and myself, to stay ahead of the pack,” said Scott.
It was Snedeker’s day, though. The Open’s propensity to make the pundits look like mugs was never more stark than yesterday when this unheralded American whose complete past record in this championship reads cut-cut-cut with a combined score of 25-over par, ripped up every form guide in the land. Snedeker had never broken par in the Open before Thursday. Now he’s done it twice in two days. In six rounds, at Birkdale 2008, Turnberry 2009 and last year at Royal St George’s, Snedeker recorded an aggregate of 32 bogeys. This week he hasn’t had any.
The man who blundered haplessly for three years has tied the record for the lowest halfway total in Open history (130), holing birdie putts from a sum distance of 115ft, a repeat of what he did in his first round. He’s the only guy in the whole damn field who hasn’t had a bogey in his 36 holes – the last man to achieve that feat was Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2000 – and, remarkably, he hasn’t been in a single bunker. Most of the rest of the field have practically been living in sand this week. He’s got to the top of the leaderboard because on the greens he’s seeing the hole more like a dustbin lid and is sinking everything he’s looking at.
Hands up who saw him coming? Anybody? No. How could you. If his wretched history in the Open wasn’t enough of an off-put then there was this business of the cracked rib he suffered a short while back. He did it in a bizarre coughing accident. Yes, coughing. “Thank you for laughing,” he smiled as he mentioned it after his round. In fairness, Snedeker was laughing, too. He had much to laugh about, of course.
The last time – and really the only time – that Snedeker was mapped on the world stage in any significant way was four years ago at Augusta when he went into the final round of the Masters with a chance to win, but just couldn’t overcome Trevor Immelman. He spoke on that Sunday night and he was a picture of emotion, pausing to wipe away the tears and explaining from the heart about how much winning would have meant to him and how angst-ridden he was at failing to do so. Since then? Not a lot.
“I’m sure everybody in this room is in about as much shock as I am right now,” he said. When told that a lot of Brits will be wondering who on earth he is, he nodded and said, “I’m sure there’s lots of Americans saying that, too.”
Who is he? Well, he’s a 31-year-old out of Nashville, Tennessee who says he has learned to embrace links golf because of chats with his idol, Tom Watson. He is, says Luke Donald, a streaky player who, when hot, tends to be roasting hot, a man who has a reputation for being one of the good guys borne out of an incident in 2007 when he called a penalty on himself on the 14th hole of the final round of the Australian Open, a tournament he lost by one shot. When brushing a leaf from his ball, he caused the ball to move a touch. Nobody saw it move apart from Snedeker. Like they say, a bloke you can believe in.
His brilliance on the golf course yesterday was as obvious as his honesty off it. When he spoke he mentioned the role that good fortune had played in his two rounds at Lytham, the fact that when he’s been wild off the tee he’s found some decent lies. “No bogeys round around here is getting some good breaks as well as playing some pretty good golf,” he said.
There were two moments in his second round where the Gods blessed him. On 14 he carved it left and walking up to his ball he must have feared the worst, for the rough on the left side of 14 is fearsome and that’s the terrain he’d gone into. Instead of being dead in the thick stuff, though, he was alive, 12 feet to the left of it, sitting in a perfect spot from where he made par and kept hold of the momentum he’d created.
“I got very fortunate on the 6th as well,” he said. “I hit a big pull-hook off the tee and then hit a 7-iron off a flier lie to about 45 feet. With the putt, I was just trying to get it close but when you’re putting it good some of them fall in. It had bogey written all over it after my tee shot and to walk out with a birdie was a huge boost to my confidence.”
The thing about Snedeker is that he was good enough to take advantage of the few lucky bounces that came his way. He was composed throughout. He looked utterly at ease. Why is this happening, though? How could somebody with no history of links play be doing this? “You know, it’s funny,” he said, trying to search for the reason for his startling breakthrough. “From the first day I stepped on these greens I had a great feel for the pace. These are the best greens I’ve putted on in an Open. They feel almost like poa annua greens that we have back in the States. They feel similar. I think that’s the big reason I played so well.
“There’s an Americanisation of this golf course because of the softness of it. That’s played a factor, for sure. It would be stupid to say it hasn’t. I’ve never seen balls spin at an Open before – and it’s spinning this week. Having said that, it’s still a links golf course and I’m sure it’s probably going to show some teeth this weekend.”
Maybe it will, but the fact is that Snedeker and Scott have separated themselves from the chasing pack. And they’re going to take some amount of catching.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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