Through the first month of the 2013 season, there's little question about who's playing the best golf in the world. It's defending FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker, who, after second-place finishes in the last two weeks, put it all together on Sunday to pull away from the field for his first win this year.
Since last fall, Snedeker has been the most consistent player in the world. In his first four events this year, he finished 3rd, T23rd, T2nd, and 2nd. He's been in the top-five in his last eight starts, and in the top-10 in eight of his last nine events. According to a graphic from Golf Channel, coming into Sunday, Snedeker had played 28 of his last 31 rounds under par and has a scoring average of 68.3 through that eight-tournament stretch.
There's an endless list of impressive stats and Snedeker has clearly emerged as one of the best American golfers. He always had the putting stroke to compete on a weekly basis, but accuracy off the tee and work around the greens have put him on the first page of the leaderboard at almost every event.
While it was the third-straight multi-shot win on Tour, Snedeker did not start the day with the cushion that Tiger and Phil had the past two weeks. Snedeker started the day tied for the lead with James Hahn at 12-under, but he quickly separated himself from the field on the front side. The annual Tour stop does not set up Pebble as the monster it is for a U.S. Open, with numbers in the mid-60s commonplace and even-par considered a disappointment. A player must go low and pick up birdies on the first seven holes, and Snedeker did just that.
It started on the par-5 second hole, where Snedeker dropped a pinpoint approach shot right on top of the flagstick for a four-foot eagle putt. He cleaned up the short putt and walked off the green with a lead he would never give up. Birdies on four-straight holes on Saturday put him in position on Sunday, and he went through a comparable stretch in the final round, playing the first seven holes in five-under.
Snedeker's lone hiccup of the day came on the ninth hole, a bogey on the par-4 along Stillwater Cove. But Snedeker responded to that bogey with back-to-back birdies on his first two holes to start the back nine. Those two birdies pretty much sealed things up early in the afternoon, but he poured in another birdie putt on the iconic par-3 17th hole to push the margin back to three shots and make it academic.
His putting has long been the envy of the rest of the players on Tour, but Snedeker has all facets of his game humming right now. He hit his first 10 fairways on Sunday, with accuracy off the tee a big reason for his jump to the next level. But he was also amazing getting up-and-down around the green on Sunday when his approach shots missed. He saved par from the green-side rough at Nos. 3 and 8 on the front, then pulled off another impressive save from the short-side rough at No. 13 to keep the door slammed on second-place chaser Chris Kirk.
At the start of the day, Phil Mickelson, who played in the final group last week with Snedeker, talked about Snedeker's play recently but reiterated that he would have to close things out on a layout where anyone within seven shots can make a charge to win it (via Golf.com):
"He's been playing great golf these last couple of weeks ... and it looks like this could be his week," Mickelson said. "But final round at Pebble Beach, a lot of things happen and he has to play one more good round. I know he has it in him, but he still has to go do it."
And he took a stranglehold of the leaderboard early, joining Tiger and Phil as runaway winners at the start of the 2013 season.
As Snedeker went to the 18th tee with a three-shot lead, CBS put up a graphic highlighting the most wins on Tour since 2011. This is Snedeker's fourth win in that time span, joining Woods and moving one shy of Rory McIlroy. The steady Snedeker is now No. 4 in the world, behind only Rory, Tiger, and Luke Donald. It's a class where he clearly belongs, and he'll now almost certainly enter the season's first major at Augusta National in that select group of favorites to win a green jacket.
The final top finishers, as well as a few other notables:
For a complete leaderboard, visit Golf.com.