Some now say—with a discreet glance to see if Luke Donald is listening—that Snedeker, at 32, is the game's most consistent performer. "It's his putting; it's dynamite," says the English star, Justin Rose. "He holes bombs, and he's not scared of missing. He's always running the ball at the hole."
"Not a lot of guys are going to beat him right now," says Brian Harman, a Snedeker protégé. "He looks super confident, and he's shooting a lot of low numbers." And yet, it was only last summer that a British tabloid, spying the mop-topped Tennessean's name atop a British Open leader board, headlined its story: BRANDT WHO?
"It's so funny," Snedeker says. "Everybody wants to know what the difference is. You went from 35th in the world to fourth in nine or 10 weeks. What's the difference? Well, my golf swing has not changed over the last three years. My short game has not changed. People say I'm a great putter, but I've been a great putter for a while, that's nothing new. The biggest difference is just the way I prepare and how I think."
Specifically, Snedeker credits a Moneyball-style emphasis on performance data as well as the tutoring of Englishman Mark Horton, a golf statistics guru. "There are two ways to play extremely well," he says. "You can be extremely intelligent and play to your strengths, or you can have no clue what you're doing and just do it." Having established a Donald to Dustin Johnson range, the fast-talking Snedeker admits he "was kind of in the middle. Mark looked at my stats and said, 'I see no reason for you not being a top five player. It must be your thinking.'"
Snedeker, a relatively short hitter by Tour standards, already knew he couldn't overpower a golf course the way Johnson does, that his strength was his short game. But he hadn't applied that understanding effectively. Says Snedeker, "I used to play a golf course the way everybody else played it, the way you're supposed to play a course."
No more. Snedeker and Horton now merge his updated playing stats with the Tour's ShotLink data to fashion a tournament strategy that fits his game that week on that specific course. Much of it is common sense—making sure his chips stop below the hole, for example, "because the odds of me making a putt from five feet underneath the hole are nine or 10 out of 10," he says, "while my chances from five feet above the hole are only six or seven out of 10"—but sometimes the plan shifts the paradigm in his favor.
His AT&T victory was a case in point.
"I'm giving you some behind-the-scenes stuff here," Snedeker said on moving day, settling into a sectional sofa at his new six-bedroom house. "Everybody thinks you've got to spend all your time at Pebble because you play it twice. But we focused our practice on the toughest course, Spyglass. That course always plays at par or just a little over, and my thought in the past was just to get by, to shoot even par or one under. That's how everybody plays Spyglass. But this year my mind-set was completely different. Because if you're aggressive on that course and shoot four or five under par, you have a massive advantage over the field. You're going to be right where you need to be on Sunday."
Which is true, as far as it goes. But Spyglass Hill is scary tough, with sandy cliffs and ice plant menacing the golfer at every turn. Going low there isn't just a matter of resolve, is it?
Snedeker leaned forward. "What's really important at Spyglass are the par-5s. Those are the holes you have to be aggressive on—making sure you have wedge in your hand, going after pins. There are four or five holes you've just got to get by, make a par and don't do anything stupid. The rest is game management—missing fairways in the right spot, missing greens in the right spot, leaving yourself easy putts."