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BILL DWYRE

Don't discount Brandt Snedeker at Torrey Pines

Even after dropping seven shots off the pace at the Farmers Insurance Open, he turned wincin' time into grinnin' time and that has served him well.

January 25, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Brandt Snedeker hits a short pitch shot on the sixth hole during the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
Brandt Snedeker hits a short pitch shot on the sixth hole during the second… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

LA JOLLA — On a day ideal for ducks and lawns, the most famous Commodore in pro golf kept smiling and kept his head above water.

Brandt Snedeker, the pride of Vanderbilt and the defending champion in this week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, went low on Thursday and high on Friday. That added up to a 65-75, left him with a four-under par total and didn't make a dent in that ever-present smile.

If he is, someday soon, to become the face of the PGA Tour, they may need to change the logo from a swing to a grin.

"I putted the ball terribly today," he said after dropping seven shots off the pace. "I'm going to have to go low tomorrow, because the guy in the lead is pretty good."

That would, of course, be Tiger Woods, who Snedeker pointed out Thursday had won more tournaments at Torrey Pines (six) than Snedeker has won total on the tour (four).

His "the guy in the lead is pretty good" brought another grin. Snedeker's sense of humor ranges from slightly self-effacing to very self-effacing. Some guys throw clubs. Snedeker tells a joke on himself.

Some would say that's easy to do when you are 32, finish last season with a victory in the FedEx Cup finale as top point winner and get a check for $11.4 million. But as those around the tour will attest, the money didn't change him and probably never will. In a story in Thursday's San Diego Union-Tribune, he said he hadn't splurged on anything with the $11.4 million. He still drives the same GMC Denali he has for years, with the broken door handle. And he still lives a mile from where he grew up in Nashville. He calls it his "Nashville bubble."

Friday's first hole, on the torturous 7,698-yard South Course, presented a prime example of Snedeker being Snedeker.

He entered the day with a share of the lead at seven under, hit his drive on No. 1 into one of the traps on the right, then fatted it out about 80 yards short of the pin, his shot resembling one that Mo and Curly would hit in the 8 a.m. foursome at Azusa Greens. His next shot, of course, resembled a tour player. It stopped nine feet away.

But he missed the putt, dropped a stroke to par, knew he had already fallen off the pace and couldn't have been happy. As they headed for the second hole, the rains that never left all day fell harder and Snedeker stopped to put on rain gear. Off came the signature visor, and his hair, always disheveled under it, flew everywhere.

From the gallery came a voice: "Bad hair day, Brandt."

Snedeker never missed a beat. "Every day's a bad hair day for me," he said, grinning.

It is perfectly coincidental that Snedeker's golf hero growing up was a young Tom Watson, the tour's original Huck Finn. In looks and demeanor, Snedeker out-hucks Huck. You fully expect to look up one day and see a fishing pole stuck in his golf bag, with a worm dangling from a rusty hook.

For most, Snedeker's appearance on the scene began with the 2008 Masters, where he had a shot to win and faded to a 77 on Sunday. His meeting with the media afterward was uncharacteristically emotional, and with reason. Like it is for so many, the Masters is Snedeker's summit of Mt. Everest.

He had qualified to play in it in 2004 as an amateur, and that qualification allowed him to play Augusta National as often as he wanted in the early months of that year. He was done at Vanderbilt, and only six hours away by car in Nashville. So he made the drive repeatedly, became close to several members at Augusta National and estimates he played as many as 50 times before the tournament.

He knew the course so well that he finished 41st that year, and, in a Friday round in 2008, felt comfortable enough, despite the tradition that saturates everything there, to chip a lob wedge off the green surface on No. 6 that went over a knob and into the cup.

"I hit it clean, so I didn't hurt the green," he said afterward.

That was nothing compared to the shot he made last summer in a Wednesday practice round for the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. It was on the par-four, 330-yard 16th, the same hole that cost a still-contending Woods a title shot on Sunday last year, when he was forced to straddle a bunker to hit out. Snedeker hit a driver "just to test the line." Ahead, he heard a roar. His shot had gone in. He had an albatross and an ace on the same hole.

He may need something similar Saturday. His 75 was one of seven Friday among those who made the cut. Nobody still playing Saturday shot higher.

His Thursday press interview statement, where he said he has always adjusted well to the greens at Torrey Pines, will be severely tested.

"I come in [here] hitting the ball at the right speed, reading the right lines," he said then, "and when you do that, you have confidence and it kind of bleeds into the rest of your game."

Friday, his putter bled a touch left or a shade right. He three-putted twice.

"I just struggled," he said.

But reminded that, at seven shots behind Woods, he is in the same exact position as he was going into last year's final round here when he won, Snedeker did what Snedeker always does.

He smiled.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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