CASARES, Spain — For perhaps the first time ever in the modern era, a golfer teed off in competition today with just 10 clubs — and wearing bright green sneakers. It was no bother for Brandt Snedeker, who sprinted away from Denmark's Thomas Bjorn to win 5 and 4 in the first matches of the 47th Volvo World Match Play Championship.
"Kind of a weird day to say the least," Snedeker said. "I said to my caddie I feel like we are playing in a club tournament playing five or six clubs. You realize you are going to have some weird numbers and you're going to have to try some funky shots and have some fun with it," he said. "And I did that today."
Snedeker's clubs finally caught up with him on the fourth tee. By that time, the 31-year-old World No. 26 had raced to 3 up through three holes with irons and a putter borrowed from the pro shop, plus John Senden's back-up driver.
Snedeker set off in the knowledge that his clubs and spikes, lost in transit from Orlando via Miami and Madrid after last week's Players Championship, had finally arrived at Malaga airport, an hour's drive from the Finca Cortesin golf club on Spain's Costa del Sol.
He left space in his bag for a 3-wood, hybrid, lob wedge and his own putter. The longest club he had after Senden's driver was a 3-iron until his own arrived. But he was hitting so well with Senden's driver, he turned his own away.
"I think it's my driver now, no longer his," Snedeker said laughing.
His own putter may be redundant, too, after his borrowed pro shop TaylorMade Ghost gave Bjorn nightmares.
"I had seven or eight one-putts," Snedeker said. "Pretty hard to mess with that. Still, my putter has been in the bag for six years. It would be hard to take it out after one decent day with a different putter."
He finished the match with two putters in his bag but stuck by the pro shop substitute. Snedeker said the club's professional had not yet charged him for the hire set.
"I'm sure it will be a hundred bucks," he said with a smile. "It will be well worth it."
If Snedeker wins, they can take it out of his $890,000 first prize.
As the lone American here, he is aiming to become the first U.S. player to win this event since Mark O'Meara beat Tiger Woods by one hole in 1998's final played at Wentworth in Surrey on the outskirts of London. The champions' roll of honor includes Arnold Palmer, who won the inaugural event in 1964, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Hale Irwin, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Ernie Els and defending champion Ian Poulter.
"I remember when Mark beat Tiger," Snedeker said who watched the past five tournaments on Golf Channel. "I have always had an affinity to play in this event because I love match play," he said. "I love the one-on-one aspect of it, and this has such a great list of champions with Seve and Ernie winning it as many times as he did (seven). I've never had an international victory. It would be cool." His last victory was at the Farmers Insurance Open in January at Torrey Pines.
Snedeker is also keen to make his Ryder Cup debut and send a message to his captain Davis Love III for the matches against Europe at Medinah near Chicago in September. Snedeker is outside the top eight spots for automatic qualification and failed to make Corey Pavin's 2010 team at Celtic Manor in Wales.
"Yeah, it would be pretty tough if I were to win this week for Davis to find an excuse to leave me off the team," he said. "If I keep playing well, it would be a pretty good bonus to come over and win a match play tournament against a bunch of European guys and the world's best. Can't do anything but help," Snedeker said.
He was 6 up through 10 holes against Bjorn. The (not so Great) Dane simply ran out of holes on the back nine. It was the perfect end to the day for Snedeker after a calamitous beginning. But he may have a tougher battle on Friday afternoon when he goes head-to-head with Branden Grace. The South African has already won three times this year on the European Tour after graduating from qualifying school last year.
Elsewhere, Poulter beat Senden, 3 and 2; Graeme McDowell beat Robert Karlsson, 1 up; Justin Rose smashed Robert Rock, 7 and 6; and Sergio Garcia sailed past Alvaro Quiros, 2 and 1.