With drawcard status comes high responsibility, although Brandt Snedeker’s play this week suggests that carrying the lead feels as comfortable to him as the softest down pillow.
The American leads the Fiji International with a round to play after surviving Natadola Bay’s windiest day yet. He returned a 2-under 70 to reach 12-under, three strokes clear of Victorian Anthony Houston (73) and four ahead of 36-hole leader Matthew Giles (75). Snedeker (pictured above) prevailed in testing conditions through experience and nous to turn a one-shot overnight deficit into a more-than-handy advantage.
Snedeker is the lone player ranked inside the top-100 in the world playing in Fiji this week. His most recent visit to a PGA Tour of Australasia tournament resulted in a horrific performance late last year at the Australian PGA Championship where Royal Pines swallowed him whole during an opening 84. He retreated home in a flash to seek his swing coach Butch Harmon. The pair worked wonders, as less than two months later Snedeker captured the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour by shooting 3-under amid some of the most ferocious winds ever seen on the American circuit. The 35-year-old drew upon that experience today.
“Besides the fact it’s actually warm and it’s not raining, it was pretty similar, wind-wise,” said Snedeker, who dropped only one shot in the stiff breeze and has just two bogeys through 54 holes. “I draw on that a lot. When I get in those conditions I know I can do it, I’ve done it before, I kind of pull some shots out … and I’m sure I’ll pull them out tomorrow.
“It was a tough day. I did a great job of hanging in there. I hit the ball really well off the tee – with one exception; I put the ball where I needed to all day and I hit a bunch of great putts but they just didn’t want to go in for some reason. Starting the day off, if you’d told me I’d shoot a couple under par, I would have taken it as tough as the conditions are.
“When I was younger on tour I didn’t have a great record [holding the lead] at all. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of figured out what works and how to handle the pressure.” Brandt Snedeker
“A three-shot lead in wind like this is [potentially gone in] one hole,” the affable American said of what he sees as a precarious margin atop the leaderboard. “Most people, as you get older on tour, you’ve got to figure out a way to do it. When I was younger on tour I didn’t have a great record [holding the lead] at all. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve kind of figured out what works and how to handle the pressure.”
A handful of good rounds came from back in the pack, although that pack played in condensed fashion after tour officials sent players off in threesomes from the 1st and 10th tees. Jarrod Lyle tore around in 5-under 67 to post the round of the day, while Victorian Todd Sinnott, New South Welshman Lindsay Wilson and New Zealander Michael Hendry each signed for 68s. Fresh off a course-record 64 yesterday, Gareth Paddison turned in 4-under today before shooting 69, the same score as Dimi Papadatos. And those six rounds were the only sub-70 efforts recorded on a difficult Saturday.
The two Kiwis’ fine rounds pushed them into the fringe of contention. At 7-under, Hendry and Paddison have only Snedeker, Houston and Giles ahead of them on the leaderboard. Hendry’s highlight was making a 2 at the short par-4 12th, where the tees were brought forward to entice players into carrying the pond fronting the green with their tee shots. Hendry and South African Dylan Frittelli were the only players to cash-in with eagles.
A bunch more players remain on the periphery of contention in the tournament co-sanctioned with the European Tour. Queenslander Brett Rankin, South Korean Inhoi Hur and reigning NSW Open champion Ben Eccles will begin Sunday at 6-under, six strokes behind, with Sinnott, Matthew Griffin and Andrew Evans a further shot adrift.
Whether or not Snedeker is catchable will come down to whether the veteran American’s chanceless play holds up for one more day, while also being partly weather dependent, as Sunday’s forecast is dicey. Second-placed Houston will spend Sunday recalling what his close friend Nathan Holman achieved by winning another European Tour co-sanctioned event at the Australian PGA Championship last December, which gave him playing rights on that circuit for two full seasons.
“We’ve been best mates since we were about 12, coming through the same golf club,” Houston said of Holman. “You know you can play as good as him on his day; their bad day’s just more consistent, so you’ve got to make yours the same. I think that’s what I did today. I struggled a bit and just got it around like they (the elite players) do.
“You’d be lying if you said you didn’t know what was up for grabs, but I haven’t thought about it today,” Houston added of the potential European Tour exemption. “I was really in ‘the zone’ and I felt happy and really relaxed. If it’s good conditions tomorrow, [Snedeker] might not hole putts and I could go low, but if it is bad conditions he might struggle and I might hang in there … I’m just going to focus on the first tee shot.”