AUGUSTA, Ga. Brandt Snedeker nearly wore out his welcome at Augusta National.
Once invites for the Masters go out, players are allowed to play as many practice rounds as they want and Snedeker took full advantage of that privilege before his debut back in 2004.
And then some.
"I was out of school, had not turned pro yet," he said. "They almost changed the rule the next year because of me, because I was down here every day. I wore it out. I thought, 'How many times can I have a membership at Augusta National for four months?"'
All those rounds are paying off. In only his second trip to the Masters, Snedeker has put himself in contention for lifetime privileges. After a 2-under 70 Saturday, he's two strokes behind leader Trevor Immelman and will play in the final group Sunday.
"It kind of feels more like a home event for me," Snedeker said. "I feel like a lot of the guys in the crowd are cheering me on, and it's a good feeling."
Snedeker earned his first trip to the Masters three years ago after winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship. He was already somewhat familiar with Augusta National, having played it once a year with the rest of the Vanderbilt team. Once he got his official invite, though, he practically took up residence.
He'd pile into his car Thursday for the 5 1/2-hour drive, and get in two rounds before dark. Then he'd play another two rounds Friday. By the time the tournament rolled around, he had played 40 to 50 rounds.
It paid off when he made the cut, finished tied for 41st, and turned pro the next day.
"What better scenario could you have to come out and play this course as many times as you wanted to?" Snedeker said. "It was great, just getting to know the golf course and getting over the whole aura of it is a lot."
But it surely raised some eyebrows among the members, who are "politely" discouraged from playing here too often.
It's hard to hold anything against the happy-go-lucky Snedeker. Especially when he's playing as well as he has this week.
He was in trouble with three straight bogeys on the back nine, and it looked as if his nerves and inexperience might finally be getting the best of him. He botched his tee shots on 11 and 12, then plunked his second shot in the creek on 13. But his PGA Tour rookie of the year award last year wasn't a fluke, and he closed with three birdies in his last five holes, including one on 18 that put him in the final group with Immelman.
"It's a completely different golf course" during the Masters, Snedeker said. "But there's a familiarity that comes with playing the golf course. Where you know you can miss it, and you know what's not a good spot to miss it and what's an OK spot to miss it and that kind of stuff."Despite my experience, I still did it on 11, 12, and 13 and still missed it where I wasn't supposed to," Snedeker said. "But hopefully that will pay off tomorrow."
TOUGH PAIRING: Stewart Cink drew golf's equivalent of the short straw.
Somebody has to play with Tiger Woods when he's in contention at a major, and it's Cink's turn today. As if being paired with the best player in the world isn't intimidating enough, there's a circus-like atmosphere that surrounds Woods at every hole.
It's rattled more than a few of his partners, but Cink swears he's not worried.
"I don't know if I've ever played with him on Sunday here before, but I've played with him plenty of times here and this year I've played with him a few times on Sunday. He's good to play with," said Cink, who is at 4-under, one stroke behind Woods and seven behind leader Trevor Immelman.
Cink's best finish at the Masters is 10th in 2006. His best finish at a major is third, at the 2001 U.S. Open and the 1999 PGA Championship."I always say if you're playing with him on the weekend, you're doing something right," Cink said.
DIVOTS: This year's purse is $7.5 million, with the winner getting a check for $1.35 million. ... The final pairing will feature the PGA Tour's last two rookie of the year winners. Immelman won it in 2006, Snedeker in 2007. ... Play was delayed because of rain for 45 minutes Saturday afternoon. ... Thirteen players in the 44-person field shot under par Saturday.