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Masters Disasters Part 3: Sneed's 1979 meltdown hard to forget

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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For Ed Sneed, it was uneasy as 1-2-3.

Before Greg Norman, Scott Hoch, Kenny Perry and myriad other guys had come undone over the final hour of the season's first major, Ed Sneed had established the standard by which all Masters charity was measured.

Sneed, a former Ryder Cup player, was three strokes ahead with three holes to play when he began inexplicably giving away shots like Easter candy, then lost in the tournament's new playoff format, sudden death.

Dead man walking, indeed.

Sneed entered the final round of the 1979 event with a commanding five-shot lead and had been the best player on the property for three rounds. In fact, he wasn't exactly wetting his diapers through 69 holes, either.

Masters Disasters

Showing some nerves at times, he nonetheless birdied the crucial par-5 holes on the back nine Sunday to keep his pursuers at bay. Thus it appeared as though another Ohio State grad with ties to Scioto Country Club -- sharing a similar professional pedigree as six-time Augusta winner Jack Nicklaus -- was going to slip into a green jacket.

He was still at a loss for words after it all caved in, and mind you, Edgar Sneed, 34, was considered one of the smartest guys of his era.

"I had control of the tournament," Sneed said after shooting a 4-over 76. "I didn't feel tight."

He didn't look exactly right, either, particularly when his ball started avoiding the cup as though it had a manhole cover on it. He needed one stinkin' par in three holes. Any circumstance other than a major and you'd bet the ranch, and probably your wife's birth control pills, on the guy.

Three up, he three-jacked the 16th hole for a bogey, which didn't have anybody hyperventilating at the moment. On the 17th, he missed the green long, then chipped to five feet and narrowly missed his par putt.

In the Augusta National clubhouse, golf writer Dan Jenkins watched it play out on TV and said, "The other guys are just out there playing. It's Edgar who's been carrying the Masters around like a backpack all day."

Just like that, intestines in the gallery began to churn. From the middle of the 18th fairway, he missed the green with a 7-iron approach and chipped to about six feet, where his suffocating, tournament-winning effort hung on the lip and refused to fall.

As we bilingual types say, it was uno, dos and adios.

Not surprisingly, given the way he limped into the clubhouse, Sneed was beaten in the playoff by Masters rookie Fuzzy Zoeller. The tournament had previously used 18-hole Monday playoffs to settle ties, but Sneed was put out of his misery on the second extra hole, as was Tom Watson, who also made the sudden-death affair.

"I'm extremely disappointed, I can't explain it," Sneed said at the time. "I'll just have to put it out of my mind, but it won't be easy. You don't get too many chances to win a big tournament."

He didn't know how right he was. Sneed played in 16 more majors and managed exactly one top-10 finish.

For young fans growing up in that era, especially ones who weren't particularly strong at spelling, he was forever mixed up with tour peer J.C. Snead, the nephew of one of golf's greatest players, Sam Snead. Of course, after what happened in 1979, confusion sort of became a Sneed ally.

Until Norman's epic derailment in 1996, when he blew a six-shot lead in the final round, Sneed's Masters miseries topped the list of the event's biggest collapses. Sneed won four PGA Tour titles in his career, but claimed only one of them after 1979. He played in the Masters three more times, making the cut only once and finishing T44 in 1980.

In an ignominious and rather blunt summation of his career, Sneed's Wikipedia page reads as follows: "Sneed is best known for his meltdown in The Masters in 1979."

You can bet J.C. Snead checked to ensure they spelled the name right.

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