LYTHAM St. ANNES, England (AP) — The last time Brandt Snedeker had this kind of a round when it really mattered, he sobbed into a towel after blowing his chance at a green jacket at the Masters.
He finished this time with a smile on his face, still in the hunt in the British Open after refusing to let another wayward round get away from him like it did four years ago at Augusta National.
Two birdies in the final three holes can do a lot for a guy’s frame of mind.
“It’s just kind of one of those things where you’ve got to find out if you have some guts or don’t,” Snedeker said. “I could have packed up and gone home today, but I didn’t.”
Snedeker’s 3-over 73 got him a date with Tiger Woods in the next-to-last group, within shouting distance of the lead held by Adam Scott.
Not exactly where he pictured himself entering the day after two rounds of playing bogey-free golf at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But good enough to get a shot at the claret jug should he get off to a fast start in the final round from four shots behind.
“I still have a chance,” Snedeker said. “This course is not playing easy. I showed that today. If you don’t keep the ball in play, you’re going to struggle, and I did not do that today. So you never know what might happen.”
What happened Saturday might have crushed Snedeker just a few years ago. The fact it didn’t showed a lot about his maturation as a golfer and a competitor.
He led the Masters early in the final round in 2008 only to balloon to a fat 77 that left him disconsolate outside the media center. He stood next to a golf cart, buried his head in towel, and had a good cry before explaining how it all went so wrong so fast.
The image of him breaking down won support from a lot of fans, including country music star Vince Gill, who told him: “It’s OK. Life goes on.”
There were plenty of reasons to think about shedding a few tears Saturday, including a bad break on the sixth hole that forced Snedeker to play a shot backward from the greenside bunker before finally making bogey. He found himself often in some of the 206 bunkers that litter Royal Lytham, missed short puts and fought his swing the entire round.
After shooting 66-64 the first two rounds and not coming close to even sniffing a bogey through his first 40 holes, he made six over the stretch of the next 10 holes.
“It’s just kind of what I’ve been doing so well I did so poorly today. That’s why it was frustrating,” Snedeker said. “I didn’t hit the ball very solidly. I didn’t putt the ball very well. Just one of those days where you shake your head and wonder what you’re doing out there, and I hate those.”
Snedeker, who began the round with a one-shot lead over Scott, was six shots back and fading fast when he made only his second birdie of the day on the 16th hole. He finished the round off with a 30-footer for birdie on the 18th hole and broke out in a wide smile before cheering fans packed into the giant grandstands surrounding the final green.
“I could have easily turned a 3-over round into a 7- or 8-over round, if I wasn’t still fighting, still hanging in there,” Snedeker said.
Snedeker, a Tennessean with a Huck Finn kind of face and easygoing personality, was an unlikely leader through the midway point of the Open to begin with. Though he’s a three-time winner on the PGA Tour — including a victory at Torrey Pines earlier this year when he came from seven shots behind in the final round — he hadn’t even made the cut in his three previous tries in the British.
He’s a momentum player who tends to feed off his birdies, but even he seemed perplexed at how he could have ended up at the top of the leaderboard after two rounds.
Snedeker’s closing birdie moved him into a pairing with Woods in the group just behind Scott and former U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell. Though he’s four shots back, the margin is not insurmountable if the wind picks up as predicted and the greens that have been so receptive to approach shots begin to harden up.
Without a strong finish, Snedeker might not have been close enough or confident enough to challenge for the claret jug. The two closing birdies, though, changed everything.
“I realize there’s a ton of golf left. And I’ve played a lot of great golf to get to this point,” he said. “I know it’s not far off. I know it’s in there somewhere. And, you know, I’ve come back from way more behind than whatever I was at one point today. I know that tomorrow it’s going to be a very, very tough golf course. And as long as you hang in there and keep fighting, you never know what might happen.”
© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.