PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — With one last birdie, Brandt Snedeker finally had a chance to catch his breath at one of the best places in golf.
He was on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach with a three-shot lead Sunday as he gazed into the sun at an endless ocean and tried to grasp just how far he has come in the past few months.
There was that big win at the Tour Championship to claim the $10 million prize as the FedEx Cup champion.
He played in his first Ryder Cup.
In his past nine tournaments, he has six finishes in the top three, including back-to-back weeks as the runner-up to Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
Snedeker wasn’t about to let anyone get in his way at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“Just hard to put into words, to have a stretch of golf like I had the last couple of months,” Snedeker said after his two-shot win. “Something you dream about. Something you think that you can do, but you don’t really know until you actually put it together. And I have.
“I’m really enjoying this, and hopefully can parlay this into the best year of my career.”
He was the best all week at Pebble Beach, finishing at 19-under 267 to break by one shot the tournament record. Mickelson (2007) and Mark O’Meara (1997) each had a 20-under 268 when Poppy Hills was still in the rotation.
Snedeker built his lead in the final round by playing the opening seven holes in 5 under, fired at the flag on the par-3 17th to set up his last birdie and closed with a 7-under 65, his 10th consecutive round in the 60s.
A tap-in par on the 18th gave him a two-shot win over Chris Kirk, who stayed in the hunt all day without ever putting too much pressure on Snedeker.
The hottest player in golf, Snedeker finally has a trophy to show for it.
“The last two weeks, playing great but running into two Hall of Famers, really motivated me to go out and prove that I can handle the lead,” he said.
With his fifth career win — and fourth over the past 22 months — Snedeker improved to a career-best No. 4 in the world, making him the second-highest American in the world ranking behind Woods.
“Sneds is officially the best golfer on the planet right now,” Ian Poulter tweeted from home in Orlando, Fla. “Some serious golf he is playing.”
In five starts this year, the 32-year-old from Nashville already has a win, two second-place finishes and a third. He never had much of a chance against Woods at Torrey Pines or Mickelson at the Phoenix Open, who each had big leads going into the final round.
Snedeker was tied with James Hahn, a 31-year-old rookie from the Bay Area, and seized control with an eagle and three birdies on the opening seven holes. Snedeker responded to his only bogey, a three-putt at No. 9, by rolling in birdie putts on the next two holes.
Hahn was looking forward to learning something from his debut in the final group, and he saw Snedeker put on a clinic.
“I learned that he is a better guy than he is a golfer. The dude is world class,” Hahn said. “He’s obviously one of the best, if not the best golfer right now, and possibly for the last year. But how he conducts himself as a person on an off the golf course, that’s also world class. He deserved to win today. … I’m sure if you ask him, it was never a doubt that he was going to win the golf tournament.”
“I definitely didn’t want to do anything but win today,” he said. “I was out there for one purpose and one purpose only, and I was extremely focused all day. I did a great job of staying patient and I did a great job of playing the golf course the way you’re supposed to play it.”
He now heads off to a vacation on Maui before returning for the stretch run leading to the Masters.
Winning a major is the next step for Snedeker, who has emerged as a veritable threat wherever he plays with a confident putting stroke and a dramatic increase in hitting fairways off the tee.
Kirk never got closer than two shots of the lead, missing an 8-footer on the 16th that could have put some pressure on Snedeker. He closed with a 66 to finish at 269, a score that would been good enough to win all but four times at Pebble Beach since this event began in 1937.
“We’ve had a lot of tournaments like that on tour this year where somebody has really just kind of blitzed the field,” Kirk said. “I felt like I played well enough to win a golf tournament and came up a little bit short.”
Hahn wound up with a 2-under 70 and tied for third with Jimmy Walker (66) and Kevin Stadler (65). The day wasn’t a total loss for Hahn. He previously tied for fourth at the Humana Challenge, and his tie for third gets him into Riviera next week. He hasn’t missed a cut this year and is already 11th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The only drama on a pristine day on the Monterey Peninsula came from Patrick Reed. His 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole gave him a tie for seventh with Fredrik Jacobson, and kept Jacobson from qualifying for the Match Play Championship by 0.0002 points.
The final spot in the 64-man field based on the world ranking instead goes to Shane Lowery of Ireland, who did not play this week.
Even better for Snedeker was leaving with two trophies. He and his amateur partner, Nashville investor and longtime friend Toby Wilt, tied for first in the pro-am. Wilt endowed a golf scholarship at Vanderbilt, and Snedeker was the first recipient.
Snedeker has come a long way and might just be getting started.
“I would love to be known as the best American golfer,” Snedeker said. “I’ve got a long way to go to do that, but this is a great start to the year. Couldn’t have scripted much of a better one, except for maybe winning the last two weeks if the guys (Woods and Mickelson) hadn’t played.”
Mickelson, the defending champion, hit two more balls in the ocean on the 18th hole, but at least this time he didn’t slip on the rocks. He closed with a 72 and tied for 60th.
Snedeker kept to his strategy of attacking the opening seven holes, the key to scoring at Pebble Beach.
He hit a 4-iron that caught the collar of the green and rolled to 4 feet on the par-5 second hole for an eagle, matched birdies with Hahn on the fourth hole, and then hit a 3-wood that skirted the collar of the green on the par-5 sixth and settled 20 feet away for a two-putt birdie.
From there, the FedEx Cup champion had to worry about the rest of the field. Kirk, Walker and even Retief Goosen all tried to make a run, and it looked as though Snedeker might help them out when he gunned his birdie putt past the hole and off the green at the ninth for a bogey.
Snedeker made five bogeys this week, and answered with a birdie four times. He rammed home a 25-foot birdie on the 10th, and then followed that with a 15-foot birdie on the 11th to expand his lead to four shots.
From there, it was a battle for second place — and for the final spot in the Match Play Championship. Mickelson already has said he won’t be playing in two weeks, so the top 65 are eligible.