Risky chip shot pays off for Snedeker

Brandt Snedeker will be in the final group on Saturday.
John W. McDonough/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — All those years scratching around the munis in Nashville taught Brandt Snedeker a thing or two. With his ball sitting on a big ol' knob at the back of the green — and the green jackets from Augusta National gasping in horror — he grabbed a lob wedge.

And chipped.

On that pristine putting surface.

"I knew there was a couple members worried when I took out the lob wedge," Snedeker said, referring to what might be the shot of the day Friday at the Masters. "But I figured it would be OK if I didn't take a divot, and I didn't. So the green is no worse for the wear."

His scorecard's in pretty good shape, too. Saving himself a bogey — or worse — Snedeker chipped in, making birdie on the par-3 No. 6 on his way to a 4-under 68 that put him a stroke behind clubhouse leader Trevor Immelman.

"He was dead," playing partner Tom Watson marveled. "The best he's going to make is four, maybe five, and he chips it in the hole for two. It shows some imagination and that's very impressive. Very impressive."

Making it more impressive is that this is only the second go-round at the Masters for the 27-year-old, who was the PGA Tour's rookie of the year last year after winning in Greensboro and reaching the FedEx Cup finale. Snedeker played in the 2004 Masters after winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links champion.

Young players, no matter how talented they are, are supposed to need a few years to figure out Augusta National, get a feel for its quirks and tricky greens, and discover where they can take chances. There's a reason only three first-timers have won, none since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Even Tiger Woods needed three tries to get his first green jacket in 1997 — and he missed the cut the year before he won.

But Snedeker isn't exactly new to Augusta. In the months before the 2004 Masters, he played more rounds at Augusta National than most members.

"I've played here 40 or 50 times, easily," he said. "I've never really played that great. I don't know why — I'm always just so enthralled with the place every time I come. It's so peaceful and I'm more aiming to having fun when I come here than trying to shoot a low number.

"But I've hit it pretty much everywhere you don't want to hit it," he said. "I know exactly where you don't want to hit it, so I'm trying to avoid that this week. Did it a couple times today, but hopefully no more this weekend."

When he does find trouble, though, Snedeker has a knack for working his way out of it.

He began playing golf at West Plains Country Club in Missouri because his grandmother was the manager there (she gave him his first set of clubs). But most of his early experience came at municipal courses around Nashville. Now, as all weekend duffers know, munis are not exactly the Taj Mahals of golf. There are divots everywhere, combinations of sand and sod not found in any greenskeeping manual and more bumps and mounds than the English countryside. Creativity is not merely recommended, it's a requirement.

"As a kid, I kind of hit it everywhere and scraped it around," Snedeker said. "So I always had fun getting up-and-down and making putts when you had to and chipping. Doing crazy stuff, you know, kind of just having fun out there on the golf course. People say imagination here, well, you really don't have a choice here."

There's imagination, and then there's chipping on a green.

The No. 6 green is massive but, like pretty much every other green at Augusta National, there are places on it you definitely don't want to wind up. And on Friday, Snedeker did.

With the pin tucked in the upper left corner, his tee shot just had to land on the opposite side. Not only that, he was on top of a knob meaning no matter how lightly he putted, that ball was going to go sprinting to the bottom of the green.

"This fringe here is so sticky, I couldn't putt it. I feel like if I putt it, I would be on the front edge of the green," Snedeker said. "The only chance I had was chipping it and trying to spin it a little bit. Ten or 12 feet was going to be a great shot and it came off absolutely perfect, tracking the whole way.

"You have to learn how to flip it just right. It's a yip is pretty much what it is," he added. "I was more nervous over that shot than I was all day, because I knew if I messed it up, people were going to have a field day with me on that one. So I had to pull it off."

The sixth green is close to Nos. 15, 16 and 17, so there's always a big crowd there. But the person who might have made Snedeker the most nervous was right there on the green with him.

Watson was Snedeker's idol growing up. He had Ram clubs, which Watson used to represent, and Watson wedges. Whenever Watson was on TV, Snedeker watched.

But he'd never met him until this week. In addition to being paired together, the two played practice rounds and the Par 3 Contest.

"It was great just getting to know him a little bit better," Snedeker said. "Just getting to see the way he plays golf up close. I love the way he swings the golf club. I love the way he's always carried himself. ... It was a great couple days."

Snedeker isn't nearly the ball striker Watson was. Or still is.

But there's something about him that reminds Watson of himself in his younger days.

"I was very impressed. He hit the ball a long way, he hit the ball solidly and he played some shots that he had to play," Watson said. "He's got a lot of tools. The imagination is what impresses me. He has wonderful imagination. And you have to have that here."

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