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Thursday was warm and muggy, but alive with the kind of expectation that pervades the first round of the Masters. Paired with England's Peter Oosterhuis, Sneed teed off at 12:30 p.m. That day he shot a 68, putting him in a group with Watson, Joe Inman and Leonard Thompson, one stroke back of Bruce Lietzke.
"I began with an unspectacular but solid round. I never sank a long putt, my longest being eight feet at the 9th hole for par. But I didn't miss any short ones, and only needed 30 putts for the day. I was extremely happy with my start.
"The second day produced my best round ever in a major tournament, and maybe one of the three or four best I have ever played. I shot 67, even though I missed no fewer than 10 putts inside of 12 feet. In fact, I putted very well, but the putts just seemed to rim out and slip by the hole. The highlight of the round had to be the 45-footer I holed at 17 for birdie, coming after birdies at 13, 15 and 16. I was elated.
"Early in the round I remember seeing my name at the bottom of the leader board at the 6th hole, and I told my caddie, Bill Jackson, 'They're going to have to move my name up.' "
Sneed had played 36 holes without a bogey and without a hot putter. His playing companion the second morning was Zoeller, who marveled afterward, "I've never seen anything like it. Ed hit right at the flag all day." Zoeller shot a 71, which left him six strokes off Sneed's 135 total.
Friday had been dark and ominous from the beginning, and at 1:45, while Sneed was still being interviewed by reporters, it began to rain violently. A tornado alert was posted on the course and play was temporarily suspended. Sneed retreated to the men's grill upstairs in the clubhouse. He ate lunch, watching the streams of water that threatened to wash out the round and, with it, his good score. After a two-hour delay, play resumed with all but six groups able to finish before dark, and the round became official. Through the long wait Sneed had been relaxed.
"I was concerned but not panicked. Rounds get washed out sometimes—simple as that—though you hate to lose a 67 or any good score. If I'd been scrambling and playing all over creation I'd have been more worried. But I had played very well. I was never in trouble. I just felt I could go out and shoot another good score if I had to."
On Saturday the sky was clear. The sun bathed Augusta National and for Sneed it was a day filled with promise. He began it tied for the lead with Craig Stadler at nine under par, and steadily he put distance between himself and the field, shooting a 69 that moved him to 12 under par, five strokes ahead of Stadler and Watson, six ahead of Zoeller and Lietzke.
"My third round was much like the second, with the exception of my first and only bogey of the first three rounds, at the 5th hole, a long par 4. After a perfect drive I was a bit aggressive with my second shot. I hit a six-iron right at the hole, which was in a difficult position on the left side of the green. The ball hit strong and spun left, trickling down a slope just to the left of the hole. I chipped to within four feet and missed the putt.
"The best shot of the day came at the 18th. Using a driver, I played a fade that didn't move quite enough to the right, catching the edge of the first of the two fairway bunkers. The ball Wasn't in a bad lie, but I couldn't get it high in the air without taking the risk of hitting behind it. With about 175 yards to the hole I took a four-iron, playing a slight draw, and it came up perfectly, stopping 12 feet right of the cup. I missed the putt, but after my position in the bunker, a par was what I wanted.