Snedeker fires 61 for two-shot lead; Tiger five back

Updated: January 26, 2007, 1:06 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Brandt Snedeker knew the score. He just couldn't believe where he was.

Buick Invitational scores
Brandt Snedeker
Snedeker

1. Snedeker (-11)
2. Wi (-9)
T-3. Senden (-8)
T-3. Quinney (-8)
• Complete scores

The only time Snedeker had ever been 9-under through nine holes was sitting in front of a monitor playing a Tiger Woods video game. He knew that wasn't the case Thursday in the Buick Invitational because Woods was two groups ahead of him on the North Course at Torrey Pines and well behind him on the scoreboard.

And when the 26-year-old rookie added yet another birdie, he even started taking away some of Woods' fans.

"I don't know if they know who I am or what was going on," Snedeker said. "But they were sure rooting me on like they were my best friend. It was great."

Jason Sobel's take
Jason Sobel
• For much of Thursday's opening round at the Buick Invitational, it looked like Brandt Snedeker would join golf's most exclusive club. Instead, he fell two strokes shy of shooting 59. Story

• Tiger Woods hadn't played in a competitive tournament since mid-December, so was he fresh or rusty? Blog Insider

So was his opening round of the year.

Snedeker flirted with golf's magic number by reaching 10-under through 10 holes, before the birdies dried up and a 59 fell out of reach. He settled for an 11-under 61 that tied the course record and gave him a two-shot lead over Charlie Wi.

"The whole front nine was a blur," said Snedeker, who couldn't recall how he birdied some of the holes, much less what those holes even looked like. But he generated the biggest buzz at the Buick Invitational, where Woods opened with a 66 in his bid for a seventh straight PGA Tour victory and was reduced to a supporting role.

"To see the crowd kind of work their way back to me from Tiger was kind of nice," Snedeker said. "Seeing them rooting me on the last nine holes -- although I couldn't bring it in the way they wanted -- was still fun. I had a blast."

Elias Says
Rookie Brandt Snedeker shot a 61 at the Buick Invitational. In the past 15 years, only one other rookie on the PGA Tour shot a 61 (or better) in a first round: Tag Ridings in 2004 carded a 61 at the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas.

Snedeker shot a 9-under 27 on the back nine. It's the lowest nine (front or back) recorded by a rookie on the PGA Tour in the last 25 years. Ironically, the previous low over the last quarter-century also occurred at the Buick Invitational. In 1996, rookie Jeff Julian carded an 8-under 28 on the back nine in his opening round. Story

Woods had just knocked down the flag with a 5-iron for a short eagle putt on the 18th hole when he noticed a scoreboard on his way to the first tee that showed Snedeker at 8-under through seven holes.

"We thought it was a misprint," Woods said. "It came up again, so obviously it was not a misprint. That's some great playing."

His second thought must have been, "Who's Brandt Snedeker?"

He's the Tennessee kid with blond hair flowing under his visor, a former U.S. Amateur Public Links champion who turned pro after tying for 41st in the '04 Masters. He didn't get his PGA Tour card until finishing ninth on the Nationwide Tour money list last year, despite missing a month when he tripped over a tree and broke his right collarbone.

Snedeker quickly became the star attraction on a spectacular day in San Diego.

"The crowd going into today probably didn't have a clue who I was, and by the end of the day, I had people cheering my name and telling me to shoot 59 and stuff like that," he said. "It was a great way to break onto the PGA Tour."

Never mind that they couldn't pronounce his name properly.

"I've had it butchered so many times that it's no big deal," he said. "I've gotten 'Snotlicker' before, so I don't think it could get any worse than that."

Starting his first round at No. 10, Snedeker went eight holes before making a par and was 9-under through nine holes, tying the PGA Tour record for nine holes on a par 36. That's when the thought of a 59 first came into view.

"I tried to tee my ball up on No. 1 and the ball fell out of my hand I was shaking so bad," he said. "That's when I knew I had a chance."

He piped a 3-wood out of the rough within 10 feet for eagle but had to settle for birdie when the putt caught the left lip. Two holes later, his wedge on the par-3 third covered the flag and stopped three feet away as the gallery -- growing by the shot -- roared. Make it and he goes to 11-under through 12 holes, needing only two more birdies to reach the magic number.

But he missed the short putt and never had a closer look at birdie the rest of the way. Snedeker closed his round with a 10-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth, tying Mark Brooks' course record set in 1990.

"If I had made that short birdie putt, it would been a little different," Snedeker said. "I never really got to the point where it was close."

Wi shot a 63 that hardly anyone noticed, while John Senden and Jeff Quinney each had a 64.

Almost as noteworthy as Snedeker's 61 is that the top 23 scores came on the North Course, one of the easiest on the PGA Tour. The real work comes on the South, which is nearly 700 yards longer and will host the U.S. Open next year.

The South played 4.7 strokes harder in the opening round, with Camilo Villegas posting the best score at 67.

Phil Mickelson took double bogey by hitting over the 14th green and into a hazard on his way to a 74 on the South Course, while Vijay Singh made only one birdie in his round of 75.

"The scores on the North were very low, and hopefully I'll get my share," Mickelson said. "But today wasn't the best day."

Woods is trying to win his seventh straight PGA Tour event and struggled early in his 2007 debut, blasting an 8-iron some 20 yards over the 11th green for bogey and falling to 2-over when he three-putted the 12th.

"I felt like I was in last place," Woods said.

But he made three straight birdies and then closed his front nine with a 5-iron from 209 yards that hit the top of the flag and settled five feet away for eagle. He finished his second nine about the same way, hitting 5-iron from 219 yards to about seven feet for another eagle.

For whatever reason, Woods usually plays his best golf on the tougher South course.

"The fun part about the South course is that if you shoot a good, quality round, you'll move your way right up the board," he said.

Snedeker also found himself looking ahead to Friday, although he was still pinching himself about Thursday.

"I'm sure it will sink in tonight," he said. "And when I play that bear tomorrow, it will really hit me."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press