Continued from page 1

Snedeker now is No. 4 in the world, and he said he would like to be known as the best American golfer. He believes he can be No. 1, no small task with McIlroy at the top and Woods getting closer than ever to a return to his full form.

The signature win for Snedeker remains the Tour Championship six months ago at East Lake. He was tied for the lead with Justin Rose going into the final round. McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk were three shots behind, Woods was another shot back. Snedeker had never won from the front, and he showed something that day. He closed with a 68 to win by three and claim the $10 million bonus as the FedEx Cup champion.

Since then, he has been asked at every stop if he splurged on anything. The answer remains no. Snedeker didn’t even buy a new car. He started a foundation with his wife, Mandy, to help the underprivileged children in the Nashville area.

But he did tap into the experience of winning the FedEx Cup.

“I think when I play my best golf, my best golf is some of the best in the world,” Snedeker said after winning the Tour Championship.

That’s how he feels now.

He wasn’t as good as Woods at Torrey Pines, or as good as Mickelson in Phoenix. Golf is about giving yourself chances, and that’s what Snedeker is doing better than anyone at the moment. He has been in the top three in six of his last nine tournaments, including four out of six starts this year.

As he rapped putts in the chill of the morning Saturday at Pebble Beach, one longtime observer involved in plenty of big moments watched him and said, “This guy is winning a major this year.”

Snedeker already has flirted with that twice. He tied for third in the 2008 Masters and last year in the British Open, when he had the 36-hole lead.

His next crack is in two months at Augusta National, where Snedeker made the cut as an amateur in 2004 and famously sobbed into a white towel in 2008 after enduring four hours of brilliance and blunder, his emotions all over the place.

“I’ve gone there in the past thinking I can contend, and this year I’m going in knowing that I can contend, and knowing that winning is not a far-fetched idea. It’s very much a reality,” Snedeker said. “And to do that, I’ve got to do the same stuff I’ve done this week and the last three weeks _ be very simple, do the small stuff really well.

“I know that if I play the way I played the last three weeks that there’s very few people in the world that can beat me,” he said. “And I will relish that challenge being there Sunday trying to beat the best player in the world or whoever it may be down the back nine at Augusta. That’s something I look forward to instead of dreading maybe four years ago.”