San Diego -- There was nothing in Brandt Snedeker’s U.S. Open performance that led him to believe a round like Saturday was in the offing.
"It started off a little slow," said the 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion who finished tied for third at the Masters eight weeks ago. "I didn’t exactly have a great warm-up session. I got out there and hit a bad shot on the first hole and made a bogey and I just turned it around."
After rounds of 76-73 to narrowly make the cut at Torrey Pines, Snedeker busted out with a 3-under 68. Tied for 65th at the outset of the day, Snedeker moved into a tie for 15th by dusk. The low 15 and ties earn an exemption back to the 2009 U.S. Open.
"I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of good shots," said Snedeker, who is making his third U.S. Open appearance. "I didn't put myself in any of that heavy rought until the last hole, but it's a par 5, so it wasn't too penal. I made a couple of 20, 30-footers, which is what you've got to do around here if you want to shoot a low number."
Back On Form?
Steve Stricker came to the U.S. Open searching for a game. And after two mediocre rounds that required a birdie on the 18th on Friday to make the cut, Stricker could take a deep breath. He finally made a cut, his first in over a month.
But 10 shots off the lead of Australian Stuart Appleby, Stricker’s goals were to just continue to play well.
“Any time you can go around in a U.S. Open or any major and shoot even, it's not a bad score,” said Stricker of his best round in a U.S. Open since a 2-under-par 68 in the third round at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club last year. “The wind kicked up a little bit on us. It never really warmed up again. But we were out early. We were out early and the greens were staying fairly soft.”
The even-par mentality had worked well for Stricker in the past, with top-15 finishes in five previous U.S. Opens. But starting the third round, the Wisconsin native knew he needed birdies.
“[I] Had a lot of opportunities, really,” Stricker said. “I hit a lot of greens, I think I missed three greens today. So a lot of opportunities and that's what you kind of need to do here too is just get in the fairway and get it on the green and kind of par it to death.”
Stricker had his best ball-striking round of the championship, hitting eight of 14 fairways and a championship-high 15 greens. Stricker, though, converted only two of his multiple birdie opportunities — at two of the three par-5s (No. 9 and 18). Given that the third-round scoring average was xxxx, Stricker’s 71 was impressive.
The seventh hole, which was one of the three greens Stricker did miss, cost him dearly when he made a double-bogey 6.
“I lipped out on the second,” Stricker recalled of his round. “The fourth I had it in there about 10 feet. Didn't make it. The 17th I hit it in there about 10 feet coming in and the 15th I hit it about 15 feet there.”
With two more majors upcoming over the next seven weeks, and a potential spot on the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team looming in the distance, Stricker has little time to waste in getting his act together.
“My tempo is still a little off,” said Stricker, who at one point in the first round was four under par. “I've constantly been messing with my grip out there too and I got to come up with something. I played the last few holes and I turned it on there pretty strong and I actually hit the ball pretty well. So I'm messing around out there, which you don't like to do, you want to just have one thing in mind and do it and continue to do it.”
A Free Pass
When Michael Thompson of Tucson, Ariz., holed a short birdie putt at the 18th hole on Friday to post 5-over 147, a huge sigh of relief came over his body. By making the cut and playing 72 holes at the U.S. Open, Thompson earned himself an exemption out of the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
Avoiding the first of the three stages is big, much the same as getting an exemption from U.S. Open local qualifying. Any golfer who plays 72 holes at one of the four majors receives the exemption.
“That’s been one of my goals since qualifying for the Masters and U.S. Open [last August],” said Thompson, the 2007 U.S. Amateur runner-up to Colt Knost at The Olympic Club. “The next step was to get that over with. I was cutting it close by doing it at the second of the two events.”
Remember Justin Hicks?
He was the unkown who opened the U.S. Open with a 68 and shared the lead with Kevin Streelman after the first day of the U.S. Open. Hicks, 33, followed up with an 80 on Friday and continued his rapid descent with a third-round 75.
Still, he was savoring his opening round thrill and keeping everything in perspective. Hicks was one of six local and sectional qualifiers who made it to Torrey Pines.
"I learned long ago," he said. "I saw Steve Jones make it through a playoff in one at Oakland Hills (1996) and when I saw that, I think it kind of set me off mentally to think that anybody that gets here can really play in this tournament.
"It’s not about who you are or where your career’s been, or where you’ve played or how many wins you’ve had … or anything. If you can get here, I think you can certainly be a contender at any level."
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on usopen.com. USGA New Media staff writer and freelance writer Alex Miceli contributed.