Snedeker ran off four straight birdies along the prettiest part of Pebble Beach for a 4-under 68, giving him a share of the lead with 31-year-old rookie James Hahn going into the final round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
A runner-up in consecutive weeks to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, this time the spotlight belongs to Snedeker.
“You never know what (today) holds, but I feel like I’m in great position, and I’m going to be surely more prepared, no matter who is around me in the last group,” Snedeker said. “I’m probably going to have the most experience of anybody in those last couple groups of winning a golf tournament.”
Hahn had a 66 at Spyglass Hill, making birdie on the last three holes to join Snedeker at 12-under 202. Former Etowah High School and Georgia golfer Chris Kirk birdied his last hole at Monterey Peninsula for a 64 and was one shot behind the leaders.
For all the celebrity antics that are part of the Saturday show at Pebble Beach, the video most likely to go viral belonged to Mickelson. The defending champion took a spill on the rocks below the 18th fairway. Mickelson was looking to see if his tee shot could be found — and played — when his right foot gave way and he landed hard on his back side, bracing the fall with his hands.
“I got lucky,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t get hurt.”
Not physically, anyway. Mickelson hit his next shot into the Pacific Ocean and had to scramble for a triple bogey, leaving him 11 shots behind and ending his hopes of a record-tying fifth win at Pebble Beach.
Snedeker hasn’t had a better chance to win all year. He was seven shots behind Woods and six shots behind Mickelson going into the final round. Now he is tied with Hahn, who until now was best known for “Gangnam Style” celebration of his birdie on the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open.
“He’s been playing great golf these last couple of weeks ... and it looks like this could be his week,” Mickelson said of Snedeker. “But final round at Pebble Beach, a lot of things happen and he has to play one more good round. I know he has it in him, but he still has to go do it.”
Pebble Beach was simply majestic Saturday, with a blazing sun shining across the Pacific coast and temperatures in the upper 50s.
Snedeker, who missed a pair of birdie putts inside 10 feet early in the round, began his big run with a 3-wood up the hill and onto the green at the par-5 sixth for a two-putt birdie. He followed with a 10-foot birdie on the seventh, and then hit two of his best shots on two of the toughest holes at Pebble — a 7-iron over a corner of the ocean to about 5 feet below the hole on the eighth, and a baby cut with an 8-iron that plopped down 4 feet away for a birdie on the ninth.
He didn’t make many putts the rest of the way, however, and had to settle for a 68.
Snedeker’s streak started with a 69-69 weekend on the South Course at Torrey Pines. In his last nine rounds, his average score is 67.8. The difference has been his driving, which went from a weakness to strength late last summer when he won the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.
He might be the hottest player in golf — except for winning.
“You want to win any time you have a chance because you don’t know how many times you’re going to get that in a year,” Snedeker said. “I’ve had a couple chances the last couple weeks— haven’t been the best chances. And this week, I have a great chance going into (today). And you need to capitalize on those chances.”
Snedeker missed four birdie putts inside 10 feet, including the last two holes. He badly misjudged the break on an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th and made a weak effort from 8 feet on the 18th hole.
“The last two really upset me because I felt like I really stayed patient all day and had done a great job and hit two great shots on the last couple of holes,” Snedeker said. “Those are the kind of putts you need to put some room between you and whoever else you’re going to be around.”
In this case, that would be Hahn, who seems to thrive in any environment.
If he was secure enough to do the “Gangnam Style” dance before the rowdiest gallery in golf, then he should be OK playing in the final group at Pebble Beach with a round that could severely change his career path. At stake are a two-year exemption and a trip to the Masters.
Hahn is not one to allow himself to think too far ahead.
“I’m not even in next week’s tournament, so to me, a top-10 finish would be great,” Hahn said. “So if you want to compare the Northern Trust Open to Augusta, we can. I would love to play another week out on tour, but just to learn from Brandt Snedeker, he’s one of the hottest golfers on the planet right now.”
Hahn isn’t one of those can’t-miss rookies. He’s only a year older than Snedeker, and took a far different path to the big leagues. He dropped out of California, and then took time off to work at an advertising agency, earned his realtor’s license and even sold shoes at Nordstrom’s.
He is 47-under par for the year, which includes a tie for fourth in the Humana Challenge.
“I feel like I’m playing well just because I feel comfortable,” he said. “You know, comfortable and having fun, that’s when I’m playing my best golf. ... I feel like my attitude on the golf course is better than it has been in recent years, and not getting so frustrated out there, just kind of enjoying the moment. I keep saying that, but it’s a blast to be inside the ropes and a member of the PGA Tour.”
DIVOTS: Mike Weir, who missed every cut last year, had four birdies on his last eight holes to make his second cut this year. ... Among those missing the cut were two-time Pebble winner Dustin Johnson, Padraig Harrington and Geoff Ogilvy. Ogilvy, who has not broken par in his last three events, is assured of missing the Match Play Championship. ... Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who played with Tiger Woods last year, is leading the pro-am with Jason Day as his partner. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander were among those making the cut.