The Loop

Rosaforte: Snedeker Might Be Ready for a Green Jacket

April 12, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Four players, none with a major-championship victory, none ever in contention before at a major, stand between Tiger Woods, his fifth green jacket, his 14th grand-slam title and the first leg of a slam. Can any of them stand up to the pressure?

Trevor Immelman: The 28-year-old South African being compared to Ben Hogan (by the patriarchal countryman Gary Player), showed he had the nerve, and the game, by sticking an approach shot on the 18th hole Saturday for a six-shot lead over Woods. As sport psychologist Bob Rotella told me in a conversation Saturday evening, "His biggest challenge is not to try too hard."

Brandt Snedeker: The lovable, long-haired cat from Nashville, also showed he had the moxie for a major by bouncing back from three consecutive back-nine bogeys with two rebounding birdies, including one at the last, just before Immelman cleaned up. "He told me on 18 tee we were going to make birdie," said caddie Scott Vail. "I was just hoping we got the right yardage." They did, 177 yards to cover, 182 to the pin, a perfect 7-iron with "Sneds" all jacked up on adrenaline.

Steve Flesch: The old man in the group at age 40, also has enough in the guts department, although lack of length may get the better of him in the winds predicted to blow through Augusta National on Sunday afternoon. As he admitted, "It's just not a name everybody expects to see up there on a weekend at a major." But less-accomplished names have won at Augusta, Zach Johnson being one.

__Paul Casey:__The cheeky 30-year-old Englishman who works with Peter Kostis, is just cocky enough to pull it off. "I enjoyed myself out there," he said. "We had a lot of fun, soaked up the atmosphere, and that's what I'm going to continue to do tomorrow and not worry about anybody else." One more point to consider with Casey: He's a mudder. "I think I have a good

record in bad weather," he said. "I've played in enough of it over the years, playing in Europe."

My gut: If not Woods, it'll be Snedeker, who at 27 could become what Jim Nantz called, "the next great young American player." He's got the best short game, and as instructor Todd Anderson said, "He loves this place and the way you have to play it, using his imagination, that's his game." Plus, he knows Augusta better than some of the clubs' members, having gone around an estimated 40-50 times since winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in 2003. That gave the Vanderbilt graduate a hall pass to use the course in preparation for the 2004 Masters, which he took advantage of.

"It was almost like I was a member," he said. "I wore the place out."

Sunday, he could be wearing the green jacket. It'd go well with that retro hair and old-school visor.

--Tim Rosaforte