PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Brandt Snedeker sat alone at the far end of a bar in Carmel called A.W. Shucks — the perfect name for an oyster bar and the perfect spot for a Tennessee golfer with a mop of strawberry blond hair and an innocent, freckled face that belies how fiercely he wants to win.
He was waiting for longtime friends from Nashville for a drink before going to dinner with his wife. No one bothered him. In this tony town packed with Hollywood heavyweights, star athletes and Fortune 500 executives during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, not many recognized him.
Six days later, there was no mistaking golf's hottest player.
Snedeker posed with Clint Eastwood on the 18th green at Pebble Beach, his name in the record book for the lowest score in the 76-year history of the old Crosby Clambake. The previous two weeks, he had to settle for second place behind the best players of his generation — Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines, Phil Mickelson in Phoenix.
A two-shot win at Pebble Beach doesn't put him in their league. But he's headed in that direction.
Snedeker had said a week earlier at the Phoenix Open that elite players are defined by winning, especially majors, and "I haven't done nearly enough of that."
"I'm playing great right now," he said. "I'm as high as I've ever been in the world ranking and that kind of stuff, but you have to win tournaments to validate that," he said. "I haven't done it."
Pebble Beach was only his fifth career win, and Snedeker is not the first player to go on a big run. Remember, Jason Dufner had a stretch last spring when he won twice and was runner-up in four tournaments. But there's an explosiveness about Snedeker, not to mention that putting stroke, which makes his goal of being the best a little more plausible.
"Brandt, great performance. Wish I had your putting stroke again," Tom Watson tweeted Sunday night.
In his rookie season on tour, Snedeker was 10-under par through 10 holes on the North Course at Torrey Pines when he had to settle for a 61. He wound up third that week behind Woods. Late last year, he missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the HSBC Champions at Mission Hills for a 59.
No one had finished second to Woods and Mickelson in consecutive weeks. Dating to 1990, no one had finished second in back-to-back weeks and won the next tournament. Even more impressive about the way Snedeker won Pebble Beach is that he knew he would have to score on the opening seven holes, and he did just that. Snedeker hit a 4-iron to 4 feet for eagle on the par-5 second and drilled a 3-wood over the massive hill on the par-5 sixth to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie.
He made only five bogeys all week, and four times made birdie on the next hole.
His big run began after he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, and then sorted out an issue with his driver. Since then, Snedeker has broken par in 33 out of 37 rounds. His 7-under 65 on Sunday was his 10th straight round in the 60s — that includes a 68 in the cold and rain at Spyglass Hill, and two rounds on the South Course at Torrey Pines.
In the last two years, only three players have won at least four times on the PGA Tour — Rory McIlroy with five, Snedeker and Woods with four.
Validation comes from winning.
Snedeker now is No. 4 in the world, and he said he would like to be known as the best American golfer. He believes he can be No. 1, no small task with McIlroy at the top and Woods getting closer than ever to a return to his full form.
The signature win for Snedeker remains the Tour Championship six months ago at East Lake. He was tied for the lead with Justin Rose going into the final round. McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk were three shots behind, Woods was another shot back. Snedeker had never won from the front, and he showed something that day. He closed with a 68 to win by three and claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.
Since then, he has been asked at every stop if he splurged on anything. The answer remains no. Snedeker didn't even buy a new car. He started a foundation with his wife, Mandy, to help the underprivileged children in the Nashville area.
But he did tap into the experience of winning the FedEx Cup.
"I think when I play my best golf, my best golf is some of the best in the world," Snedeker said after winning the Tour Championship.
That's how he feels now.
He wasn't as good as Woods at Torrey Pines, or as good as Mickelson in Phoenix. Golf is about giving yourself chances, and that's what Snedeker is doing better than anyone at the moment. He has been in the top three in six of his last nine tournaments, including four out of six starts this year.
As he rapped putts in the chill of the morning Saturday at Pebble Beach, one longtime observer involved in plenty of big moments watched him and said, "This guy is winning a major this year."
Snedeker already has flirted with that twice. He tied for third in the 2008 Masters and last year in the British Open, when he had the 36-hole lead.
His next crack is in two months at Augusta National, where Snedeker made the cut as an amateur in 2004 and famously sobbed into a white towel in 2008 after enduring four hours of brilliance and blunder, his emotions all over the place.
"I've gone there in the past thinking I can contend, and this year I'm going in knowing that I can contend, and knowing that winning is not a far-fetched idea. It's very much a reality," Snedeker said. "And to do that, I've got to do the same stuff I've done this week and the last three weeks — be very simple, do the small stuff really well.
"I know that if I play the way I played the last three weeks that there's very few people in the world that can beat me," he said. "And I will relish that challenge being there Sunday trying to beat the best player in the world or whoever it may be down the back nine at Augusta. That's something I look forward to instead of dreading maybe four years ago."