He couldn't believe his good fortune, getting paired with Tom Watson. In the mid-1980s when Brandt was five and six and seven and first taking up the game, Watson's name was a fixture on sports-page headlines and golf telecasts, and the eight-time major winner was a model for the boy golfer. Candy and her sons would make summer trips from their home within the city limits of Nashville to rural Missouri, and Haymes and Brandt would play all day at the West Plains Country Club, a place where they'd see tractors in the parking lot and where Candy's mother, Honey Hayes, was a manager and boss of the restaurant. As a young woman, Honey dated Bill Stewart, who later had a son named Payne, so there was a rooting interest for sweet-swinging Payne, too. Brandt had good swing models and no formal instruction. When Watson won the Memorial in 1996, ending a nine-year drought, 15-year-old Brandt felt the tingle of victory himself. By then he was playing Ram clubs, same as Tom.
Snedeker began the day one stroke back after a three-under 69 on Thursday, and his play in the second round picked up where the first left off. Through five holes he was one under for the day. On number 6, the downhill par-3, Snedeker faced a monster-long birdie putt. The route to the hole was blocked by fringe. He took out his lob wedge and played a pitch shot off the green, landing it where he knew the grain would kill it, and watched the ball roll into the hole for an unlikely birdie. He took no divot but could see where the club had brushed the grass. Watson clapped and smiled and said nothing. Snedeker's second-round 68 left him one shot out of the lead.
Snedeker was paired with the leader, Trevor Immelman, in the last group of the day. This was the round in which they were both supposed to make a mess of things—neither had ever contended for a major before—and let the big boys take the stage: Tiger, Phil, Vijay. When Brandt made bogeys right through Amen Corner, he looked to be playing his role. As an amateur, in his first round, he had made three straight birdies on those very holes. Now, as a pro, he had played them in six shots more. His caddie, Scott Vail, told him he'd make three birdies coming in, and he did, on 14, 15 and 18, to go along with two pars.
The hardest shot in that five-hole stretch was the third shot on the par-5 15th, a sand wedge from 85 yards—probably the one that looked like a standard-issue pitch to the millions of people watching on TV. Four yards too short can funnel the ball to the water. Four yards too long, the same. Snedeker nipped it just right—dead arms, no spin—and left himself with an eight-footer for birdie.
In that third round Anderson could sense that Snedeker was feeding off the gallery, which was joyful behind him. He realized for the first time how much the Masters means to Snedeker, how much he wants to be one of the best players in the game and how much he enjoys showing people what he can do with a golf ball.
His third-round 70 left him two shots behind the leader, still Immelman.
Nobody prepares you for the long wait leading up to the most important round of your life. On Saturday night, at the home Snedeker rented at West Lake, a sprawling development on the outskirts of Augusta, J.D. Jones worked the grill, just as he did every night. Grilled bologna and prime rib and chicken wings, of which Brandt ate at least 12, maybe 15. No beer, but many diet Cokes. He went to bed but never to sleep and got up at 7 a.m., 7 1/2 hours before his tee time. Haymes came over for a visit, "but after a while you run out of things to talk about," he says. "There's an elephant in the room that nobody wants to bring up, that you're in the last group on Sunday at the Masters." Larry and Candy and Mandy were in and out, everybody putting on a brave face, everyone feeling the tension. Anderson was on the practice green. Wilt was on the 1st tee. Now driving, Brandt Snedeker.
The course was hard and fast, and the wind was strong and gusty and all over the place. Brandt found that he could not get comfortable over the ball. His new ball position didn't feel right and the ball crept forward in his stance and his shoulders were open and he was aiming right and hitting pull-hooks.
Snedeker gave Immelman a congratulatory soul shake on their way up 18 and a warm favorite-uncle smile to Immelman's red-haired son, Jacob, then came off the green, aching with disappointment. His final-round 77 left him tied for third place, four shots behind Immelman. He could have won the tournament with 72, even par.
Later Immelman praised Snedeker for being gracious in defeat. Brandt's people huddled around him and the patrons gave him a nice hand. Here was the happy-to-be-here kid, giving it his best shot and coming up short. How endearing. He came into the press building for his fourth straight formal, recorded session with reporters. He had been funny and light and candid all week. He had talked about the pleasures of Masters week, his joy in people-watching, looking at the way people walk and dress, identifying the overserved and the under-sunblocked. Now he was fighting tears with every sentence, and then he finally gave up. Applause filled the interview room. (Beyond rare.) An excellent adventure was over. Next year he'll be back for more.