British Open leader Snedeker learns to love links

Brandt Snedeker waits to putt on the 11th green during the second round of the British Open in...

Brandt Snedeker waits to putt on the 11th green during the second round of the British Open in northern England on Friday, July 20, 2012. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:57 PM ET

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - Like others before him, Brandt Snedeker, a native of Nashville, didn't have much time for links golf at first blush.

For those accustomed to the finely manicured lawns of American golf, with nary a blade out of place and bounces as predictable as a Big Mac, the seeming "unfairness" of links golf is a bit much to handle after becoming accustomed to doing little thinking and taking dead aim at flags.

But playing a round on the links with five-time British Open champion Tom Watson, a boyhood idol, helped Snedeker learn to appreciate golf in its purest form.

"Well, it helped a bunch playing with him," Snedeker, the 36-hole leader at the British Open, said Friday. "He told me the first time over here he wasn't a big fan of links golf. The second time he played he loved it. You've got to kind of embrace it, realize that you're going to get good bounces, bad bounces ... expect the worst and hope for the best."

Snedeker, who had missed the cut in his three previous British Open appearances, shot a 64 Friday to tie Nick Faldo's record of 130 for the lowest score after 36 holes in tournament history. Faldo did it at Muirfield in 1992.

It also gave Snedeker a one-shot lead over first-round leader Adam Scott (64-67) and four over a charging Tiger Woods, who holed out of a bunker on 18 for his second consecutive 67. The good-looking leaderboard includes 1999 champ Paul Lawrie (65-71), Graeme McDowell (67-69), Matt Kuchar (69-67), Jason Dufner (70-66) and Ernie Els (67-70).

"I tried to (adjust) the first three times (at a British Open), but unfortunately I was still too used to playing American golf, still too used to trying to play at pins and hit shots I probably shouldn't hit," Snedeker said. "This week I'm doing a much better job of, even if I had a sand wedge in my hand, hitting it 25 or 30 feet away from (the pin), just to make sure I don't put myself in a bad spot."

Yes, Snedeker, aided by caddie Scott Vail of Oshawa, Ont., has done a pretty good job of that.

He has hit 31 of 36 greens in regulation, tops in the field.

With everybody else in the morning draw seemingly in retreat, Snedeker shrugged off the tougher conditions at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Friday morning and methodically plodded his way to the top of the leaderboard.

With the average score north of 72 Friday morning, Snedeker, bogey free through 36 holes, used some surprisingly sharp iron play and his mint putting stroke for a course record-tying 64.

Snedeker, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour including the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year, has had his share of physical issues -- a broken collarbone and two hip surgeries -- and missed the U.S. Open last month because of a cracked rib he said he sustained while coughing.

"Thank you for laughing, whoever that was," he said to reporters after explaining the injury.

Snedeker said he has embraced all aspects of being in the United Kingdom.

"I enjoy the local ales, yes. The local beers are very good," he said after it was mentioned he was seen earlier in the week in a pub. "I was not there late, you can attest to that. Might have been late there the first night, but trying to get over the jet lag. I love being over here. I played a British Amateur over here a long time ago when I was in college. I enjoy the lifestyle over here. I enjoy the golf. It's funny I've never played good because I like being over here and having a good time with it."

Snedeker has come close in majors before, including a tie for third at the 2008 Masters, which was a tearful disappointment for him.

Maybe there will be tears again Sunday, for a different reason.

And maybe another pint.

Or two.

WOODS WRAPS UP ON HIGH NOTE

For the eighth time in his career, Tiger Woods opened a major with two rounds in the 60s, this time at the British Open.

In each of the previous seven times, he ended up winning come Sunday.

Woods put a dramatic punctuation mark Friday on his second consecutive 67, holing out from a bunker on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for birdie and sparking that unique "Tiger roar" that echoed across the course. The shot put him four back of leader Brandt Snedeker with two rounds to go.

"It wasn't as hard as it may have looked," Woods of his dramatic bunker shot from beside the green. "I was on the up-slope. Because I was on the up-slope I could take out that steepness coming off the bunker and land the ball on the flat. So just threw it up there, and I played about a cup outside the left and it landed on my spot and rolled to the right."

Woods had just one bogey Friday -- at the par-5 11th where he found the punishing rough twice -- to go with birdies at four, six, 16 and 18.

A key stat: Woods has hit 26 of 28 fairways, tied with Francesco Molinari for tops in the field. He hit driver just once, on the second hole.

"I figured I had a game plan that I thought would fit well on this golf course and I figured I could execute it," Woods said. "And I've done that so far."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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