At the Safeway, Snedeker stays and Mickelson tumbles

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — Phil Mickelson was right. His game wasn’t that sharp. Brandt Snedeker also was right. He does well playing with a lead.

Mickelson, everyone knows. He’s golf Hall of Famer. Snedeker, everyone should know. He shot a 59 a few weeks ago, has won the Tour Championship, finished first twice in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and appears headed for another victory in Northern California.

One of the enduring figures of the PGA Tour, Snedeker decided to try the Safeway, the opening tournament of the wrap-around 2018-19 schedule, after bypassing it the last two years. So far, it looks like a brilliant move.

Three rounds into the Safeway, Snedeker has a three-shot lead. Or should we say still has a three-shot lead? Birdies on the final three holes Saturday at Silverado Country Club, a par-5, a par-4 and a par-5, gave him a 3-under 69 and 54-hole total of 16-under 200.

Second at 203 after a 4-under 68 is Kevin Tway, whose father, Bob, in 1996 won a PGA Championship and in 1991 finished second in the Telcom Tucson Open to an amateur named Phil Mickelson.

Time does fly. And Saturday, Mickelson’s chances for a win — even though he had broken 70 the first two days — also flew away.

Starting the round in a tie for second, three shots behind Snedeker, Mickelson shot 74 to end up eight shots back, at 208.

So much for the post–second-round banter between Snedeker and Mickelson.

“I sent him a text,” said Snedeker of dealing with Mickelson. “I gave him a hard time because he said he was playing terrible, then I saw him (Friday) make six birdies in a row. He said, ‘Well, I’m not quite confident yet.’ But he’s a great California player. Won a bunch in his career here.”

Snedeker, 37, who’s from Nashville and played for hometown school Vanderbilt, has won three in California, the two at Pebble (2013 and 2015) and the Farmers in San Diego (2016). Another could be a day away.

“It was a struggle, a grind,” Snedeker said of his third round at the Safeway. “The wind kicked up on the last 12, 13 holes and made it hard to hit it close and make birdies.

“So I did a great job of kind of staying patient and surviving with sort of mediocre ball-striking. Knowing I had 16, 17, 18 ahead for birdie holes, and really proud of the way I stepped up and hit some quality shots when I needed to.”

Snedeker’s career has been kicked around by injuries. A year ago, he missed weeks with a sore sternum. Then in 2018, after the 59 and win at the Wyndham, which he thought would give him the boost he needed to make the Ryder Cup, he had another injury.

Mickelson, of course, was on the American team in the Ryder Cup in France, which ended a week ago, Snedeker followed from afar.

“I watched the Ryder Cup,” said Snedeker. “Obviously my not being there was tough. I watched and cheered for the guys. I have a bunch of friends on the team. Every time you miss that week, being together with all those guys, rekindling friendships, you feel left out.

“You don’t want to ever do it again. It gives you a hard look in the mirror.”

The look that Snedeker, a nine-time winner, has been giving this week is one of success. He had five birdies and two bogies Saturday.

“Majors and winning is all I care about,” said Snedeker.

He has a third in the Masters and a tie for third in the British Open. It you putt as accurately as he does, you can do well in any event, major or not major.

“I really care about getting that major win as many times as possible,” he said, “winning as many times as I possibly can. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get every little bit of talent in my body.”

Which every athlete is supposed to do, no matter the sport.

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