A child wailed. Brandt Snedeker stood in the rain in front of the Augusta National clubhouse, turned his head to look at his daughter, Lily, and then he did what comes naturally. He smiled.
"The last Masters [in 2008], I ended in tears and now my daughter's crying," said Snedeker, as Mandy, his wife, carried two-year-old Lily away from the assembled cameras and microphones. "I guess we're just tearful," he added with a shrug and a stab at lightheartedness.
Five years ago Snedeker couldn't hold back the sobs after a final-round 77 crushed his green-jacket dreams. He was a little-known but suddenly emerging player whose talent was as captivating and endearing as his displays of emotion. He didn't win that Masters. He faded early on Sunday, finishing four shots behind Trevor Immelman.
Snedeker didn't win this Masters either. He entered the final round tied for the lead with Angel Cabrera and shot 75. It's a similar result, but it felt different. This time, instead of giving it away, he felt as if he lost it.
Snedeker is no newcomer these days. He is the No. 5 player in the world and the second-hottest, if not the second-best, U.S. player next to a certain icon named after a wild animal. "I had no clue what I was doing in 2008," Snedeker said. "I had no idea how to play this golf course."
This time he had a game plan and for 3½ rounds, it worked to perfection. He sounded like a man on a mission, even if that man still resembles little Opie Taylor. "I've spent 32 years of my life getting ready for tomorrow, and I am completely, 100 percent sure I'm ready to handle it," Snedeker said last Saturday night, speaking boldly after a bogey-free 69. "I'm not here for a good finish. I'm not here for a top five. I'm here to win."
It was surprising talk, almost as if Clark Kent no longer cared about all that secret identity stuff. This was Snedeker's week and he knew it. He just knew.
Then the damnedest thing happened. Aussie Adam Scott holed big putts with his broom-handle model on the back nine, that magical place where Masters are won and lost, while Snedeker couldn't hit a bull in the you-know-what with a paintball gun. There was Snedeker, who has taken over from Steve Stricker as the World's Finest Putter, not only missing putts but also leaving them short.
The greens morphed from scary fast and crusty on Saturday to slow and damp as Sunday afternoon's sprinkles slowly turned into light, steady rain. It was as if Augusta National had thrown a two-strike changeup, and Snedeker got caught looking.
"The greens really messed me up," he said. "I could not get a putt to the hole on the back nine no matter what I did. If you watch me play, I never leave putts short. I just didn't make the adjustments you have to make."
He was two shots behind Cabrera when he made the turn, having gamely fought back from two early bogeys with a birdie at the 8th. Snedeker sprayed a drive into the trees at the 10th, pitched out and chipped close, leaving himself a downhill two-footer for par. His putt was an admittedly tentative effort, the memory of Saturday's lightning quickness still fresh in his mind, and the attempt lipped out.
Snedeker three-putted from long range for another bogey at the 11th, then pushed his second shot with a hybrid at the 13th and watched it splash into Rae's Creek. Though he saved par, he needed to make birdie there. His chances basically ended at 14, when his approach shot spun off the front of the green and he missed a 10-footer for par. "One loose swing at 13 cost me a little and one loose swing on 10, the short putt, really cost me," he said after a final-nine, three-over 39.
The final result, five shots back and in a tie for sixth, doesn't tell the story of just how close Snedeker came. The week did leave him with renewed determination and high expectations. He plans to contend at the U.S. Open at Merion, and he knows his game can hold up. Still, this disappointment stings. His face was flushed and his eyes moistened briefly as he fielded questions afterward, but if there were any tears this time, they were masked by steady raindrops falling from a gray Augusta sky.
"It's going to be a tough night," Snedeker said. And then he smiled, more or less.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
SUNDAY BLUES Snedeker was flawless while shooting a Saturday 69, but in the final round he was undone by several back-nine mistakes.