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With second-round lead, Snedeker playing best 'boring' golf of British Open

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Despite missing 40 percent of the fairways, Snedeker is hitting nearly 90 percent of the greens. (Getty Images)  
Despite missing 40 percent of the fairways, Snedeker is hitting nearly 90 percent of the greens. (Getty Images)  

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- So what does it take to set the all-time 36-hole scoring record in the world's oldest major championship?

"I call it boring golf," Brandt Snedeker said.

It's fitting, then, that Snedeker's "boring" game plan tied Nick Faldo -- arguably the most boring great golfer in history -- as the only other player to score 130 after 36 holes in the British Open. Faldo did it in 1992 at Muirfield, a venue where he also won his first career major in 1987 with 18 consecutive pars on Sunday.

Sometimes boring can be great, and Snedeker mastered that strategy with a 66 and 64 in the opening rounds at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

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No bunkers. No three-putts. No bad lies. No bogeys.

"I'm shooting away from every pin, trying to put it 25, 30 feet away and hopefully make some putts, which I've done the first two days and hopefully plan on doing the next few days," Snedeker said.

Of course, Snedeker is really anything but boring. He's a likeable and smart golfer who plays fast and talks faster. He's better known for his emotional breakdown after shooting 77 in the final group of the 2008 Masters than he is for winning three times on the PGA Tour.

Over here, however, he's as unfamiliar as a sunny, windless day on the links. He's played in three previous Open Championships and missed the cut every time. The British tabloid press was scurrying to find out anything about this guy who was making a mockery of venerable Lytham.

"I'm sure everybody in this room is in about as much shock as I am right now," Snedeker said when he sat down for his interview.

What was shocking was seeing Snedeker hit nearly 90 percent of the greens despite missing 40 percent of the fairways. Every time he held his breath and walked to where his golf ball was, he'd find a relatively perfect lie.

"You're going to have to hit it in the rough and get fortunate sometimes, and I have," he said. "And don't feel guilty about it at all."

Nor should he feel guilty about all the putts he's rolling in, like the 45-footer for birdie on No. 6 on Friday after snapping his drive deep into the gallery left of the hole. It was a jolt that triggered four more birdies in the next six holes that sent him soaring as high as four strokes clear of everybody else in the field before first-round leader Adam Scott closed the gap to just one.

"That was a big momentum swing," he said. "It had bogey written all over it after my tee shot, and to be able to walk out with a birdie is a huge boost to my confidence. And after that I think I got a little run and played pretty well."

The only hiccup he had was on 18, where he elected to lay up out of the rough only to get up and down from about 100 yards. Not since Rory McIlroy went 35 holes before his first bogey at the 2011 U.S. Open has anyone been so flawless to start a major. The last guy to play two bogey-free rounds in the British Open was Tiger Woods at St. Andrews in 2000, and that worked out pretty well for him in the end.

"I felt like if I got it out there in the fairway and give myself a lob wedge at it, I had a pretty good chance of making par, and that's what I did," he said. "I played such a good round, I didn't want to mess it up at 18 by doing something stupid."

If Snedeker is relatively unknown to the British galleries, he's not to his peers. He ranks 30th in the world and already won at Torrey Pines this year.

"Obviously he's doing something that not a lot of people are doing, and hats off to him," said world No. 1 Luke Donald, who is tied for ninth eight shots behind. "But he's that kind of streaky player -- he gets on a roll, he gets in a groove and he's hard to stop."

Said 1989 Open champ Mark Calcavecchia: "He's one of the best in the world with the flat stick. Brandt is a momentum-type guy, once he gets going and starts making putts and hitting shots. He plays quick and he's got the quick tempo and he putts quick, and they go in quick. That's awesome golf, 10-under par."

The bookmakers who sent Snedeker off at 150-to-1 didn't see it coming. He skipped the U.S. Open because of a cracked rib he suffered on a coughing jag and has finished only one event since mid-April, tying for 38th at Greenbrier two weeks ago.

"It's funny, I seem to play my best golf when I don't feel like my golf swing is right on," he said. "I feel like my golf swing is close this week, I feel like it's playing pretty well, but I'm not by any means hitting it on all cylinders. I'm making every 25-footer I look at, so that makes it a lot easier."

One thing Snedeker has never been, however, is a great closer. Five previous times he's held at least a share of the 36-hole lead, and the best he finished in any of those opportunities was third.

In the 10 previous British Opens hosted at Lytham, the second-round leader has gone on to win only three times (Bobby Jones in 1926, Gary Player in '74 and Tom Lehman in '96). So with a star-studded cast of major champs and multiple winners in his wake, Snedeker isn't taking anything for granted.

"It's a great feeling, a great experience," he said, "but it gets you a whole lot of nothing. We've got 36 more holes to go. A lot can happen. As anybody can tell, over the course of this year on tour alone, there's been a lot of leads lost after 36 holes, and I'm going to try to buck that trend this weekend."

Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for the Augusta Chronicle.

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