May 1, 2008

Snedeker ready to put Masters meltdown behind him Another day ...

CHARLOTTE -- After playing in the Heritage at Hilton Head, Brandt Snedeker took some time off from golf last week and once again tried to figure out what went wrong in the final round of the Masters.

At the Heritage, he wasn't able to shake off the after-effects of that gut-grinding 77 that cost him a shot at his first major championship.

Playing in the final group with eventual champion Trevor Immelman and down just two shots when the day started, Snedeker hopped on golf's version of a roller coaster and shot a round that included a dizzying eagle, two birdies, nine bogeys and just six pars. Even with that, he tied for third in his first Masters as a pro.

"The debacle," the 27-year-old Snedeker called it on Tuesday, after a practice round for this week's Wachovia Championship.

After blowing a solid chance to win, Snedeker broke down in his post-round press conference. His voice cracked repeatedly and the tears rolled down his freckled cheeks, the emotion of the day pouring out.

The round and its aftermath made Snedeker a sympathetic figure who's still being consoled by fans who watched his day at Augusta go down the tubes.

For some, Snedeker's final round was like watching a train wreck. You knew it was happening, but you couldn't take your eyes off it. And in the aftermath, Snedeker said, people just "didn't know what to say."

"They felt sorry for me and didn't know what to do," he said. "I joked about it. It's OK, nobody died. I finished third, made a bunch of money. We're OK."

He even got a call from Tom Watson last week. Watson, who blew his share of tournaments before becoming one of the game's greats, told Snedeker about the 81 he shot in the final round of his first U.S. Open to blow a win.

"It made me feel like I had somebody to talk to about it," Snedeker said.

But it's clear that final round in front of thousands and millions more watching on TV is still on his mind as he gets ready to go after the Wachovia Championship at Quail Hollow this week.

"I took a week off last week to kind of take an overview of the Masters and figure out what I did and what I did well and what I didn't do and came up with a new game plan to get me ready for the U.S. Open," he said.

He got away from golf last week, did a little fishing off the Florida Keys. He even hooked a 145-pound tarpon. It was too big to get in the boat, sort of like that Masters final round was too big to handle.

He didn't know the after-effects of a major tournament collapse could last so long.

He said he was "mentally and physically drained" at the Heritage, said he still feels "semi-fatigued mentally just from the strain of that major."

That major. The Masters.

"I relived the last two weeks about 150 times, trying to figure out what I did wrong," he said, tugging at the visor that keeps his ever-growing shock of strawberry blond hair in place. "We were close, and you've got to learn from that."

Snedeker, a star at Vanderbilt, is one of a handful of potential young stars on the PGA Tour. And the one great thing about youth is the ability to bounce back from the most disappointing events.

It could happen this week.

The Wachovia Championship begins today without defending champion Tiger Woods, who is recovering from knee surgery.

While there are no guarantees Tiger would have won this week, his absence certainly opens the door for the field. There will be at least one open spot in those final few pairings on Sunday.

And the player who fills the Tiger void could be a 20-something. Could be Snedeker who, if his hair was a little shorter, might pass for Opie Taylor.

Snedeker won once last year, his first as a pro. He has four top-10 finishes in 11 starts this year in a spring full of 20-something players either winning or threatening to win.

"It's good to see," Snedeker said of the youthful successes. "I think that's what fans want to see. It's obvious what we as 20-year-olds want to do is try and put some pressure on Tiger."

Immelman, J.B. Holmes, Andres Romero, Adam Scott, former Clemson star D.J. Trahan, Charlotte native Johnson Wagner and Sean O'Hair -- average age 27 -- have won.

Aaron Baddeley, Anthony Kim, Steve Marino, Troy Matteson, Ryan Moore and Jeff Quinney -- average age 26 -- have finished second.

Many from those groups -- particularly Immelman, Scott, O'Hair, Baddeley and Kim -- are looked to as the next generation of stars.

Snedeker hopes to join them and thinks it's what the game needs.

"I think it's because everyone wants to see Tiger get driven a little bit," Snedeker said of the focus suddenly being placed on the 20-something crowd. "They want a new face in there trying to challenge Tiger, somebody different there on Sunday."

But there's a certain learning curve involved with players and fans.

Immelman hit on it on Wednesday when asked about the difficulty of winning as a 20-something player.

"It's extremely difficult," Immelman said. "Tiger makes people take it for granted because he makes it look easy. Experience counts for so much. People look at players and think they should come out and win straight away.

"It's too damn difficult."

Snedeker got his first taste of difficult at Augusta.

Snedeker said getting to the final round on a given Sunday with a chance to challenge Tiger "is something you need to do" as a young player.

Tiger finished second at the Masters, so Snedeker knows what that means.

"It was a great, good amount of experience at the Masters, being there on Sunday and playing and see how well -- obviously in my case, not well -- I held up under pressure," he said. "You've got to put yourself in situations to learn."

But you also have to let them go, which is what he hopes to do this week.

"You're going to lose the majority of tournaments you enter," he said, "and you've got to learn to live with it and move on."


• Today: 3 p.m., The Golf Channel (channel 24 in Rock Hill)

• Friday: 3 p.m., The Golf Channel

• Saturday: 3 p.m., CBS (cable channel 5 in Rock Hill)

• Sunday: 3 p.m., CBS

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