HOUSTON — It’s about a 90-minute drive to Houston from Texas A&M, home of the 12th man, but to Brandt Snedeker the 2,500 fans allowed to watch the pros at the Vivint Houston Open on Thursday felt like a Saturday afternoon of SEC football, perhaps even his Vanderbilt Commodores.
Snedeker felt the love from the return of fans to the PGA Tour – the first event permitting fans stateside since the Players Championship in March – and rode that wave to a 5-under 65 and a two-stroke lead over six golfers including Jason Day.
“I think that’s a big reason why I played well today. I love having fans out here, I kind of feed off their energy. It’s great to hear some claps and people excited for good shots and some birdies,” Snedeker said. “I was excited to be out there and been missing them, so glad to have them back.”
But did Snedeker expect the fan support to lift him to a 65 at Memorial Park Golf, which made its return as host of the Houston Open for the first time since 1963?
“No, I didn’t,” Snedeker said. “This course is a long, tough golf course, so to play well you need to take advantage of the scoring holes, which I did a great job of today.”
Snedeker made birdie on all three of Memorial Park’s par 5s and canned a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 2 to get into red figures early. His ball striking was superb, none better than when he wedged to 3 feet on 13. Snedeker ranked second in Strokes Gained: tee to green and also second in Strokes Gained: around the green. He took just 24 putts, which sounds about right for Snedeker, regarded as one of the best with the flatstick on Tour, but that actually only ranked 31st in Strokes Gained: putting on Thursday. There may be no better sign that his game is turning a corner than shooting the low score of the day without his putter being red hot.
Snedeker is coming off a subpar season, during which he recorded just one top-10 finish, dropped to No. 106 in the FedEx Cup and has slipped to No. 84 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Between the Northern Trust, where he was bounced from the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and his first start of the new season at the Safeway Open, he made a series of changes that included hiring a new caddie – Mike Hicks, who is best known for being on the bag of Payne Stewart when he won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 – and parting with instructor Todd Anderson in favor of Bradley Hughes.
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Snedeker, 39, said he was in need of a fresh set of eyes and was impressed with how Hughes has resuscitated the game of Brendon Todd. Despite missing his first two cuts this season, Snedeker leaped into contention at the Sanderson Farms Championship last month. He shot 73 in the final round there and also backed up on Sunday with a 74 in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, but the seeds of success have him convinced that he’s on the right track to better days and potentially his 10th PGA Tour victory. To do so, he’ll need to bring his ‘A game’ or something close to it for four days, not just three.
“It’s going to be a long week, this golf course is a big, tough golf course and so I’m excited I got a low one in me, which is good,” he said. “The lead means nothing right now, we have a lot of golf to go.”