Snedeker expands his lead, gallery


Published: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — Brandt Snedeker didn't know how golf could get any better than an opening-round 61 until he walked up the 18th fairway to a standing ovation Friday after expanding his lead and the size of his gallery at the Buick Invitational.

"I thought, 'This is what it feels like to be Tiger Woods,'" he said.

The only thing sweeter would be to beat him.

Snedeker overcame some sloppy tee shots with brilliant iron play for a 2-under 70 on the menacing South Course at Torrey Pines, giving the 26-year-old rookie a three-shot lead over Charles Howell III going into the weekend.

Woods also received a raucous cheer on the final hole, but only after he topped a 5-wood out of the bunker that nearly went into the water, blasted a pitch over the green into another bunker and escaped with par for a 72 that left him seven shots behind.

"All in all, it was a pretty ugly 5," said Woods, the two-time defending champion going for his seventh straight PGA Tour victory.

Snedeker again struggled off the tee, hitting only three fairways. It got so bad that when he finally hit his first fairway on the back nine (No. 15), he had a man in the gallery say, "I finally won a dollar."

"I guess he was betting on me hitting the fairway," Snedeker said. "It wasn't a smart bet."

He could get away with errant tee shots on the shorter, easier North Course, and somehow survived without too much damage on the South, which will host the U.S. Open next year. Snedeker was helped by a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 3, a 4-iron into 5 feet on No. 12 and making only two bogeys.

He was at 13-under 131.

Howell got into weekend contention for the second time in three weeks with a 64 on the pitch-and-putt North Course, putting him at 10-under 134. Former PGA champion Rich Beem had a 68 on the South Course and was at 9-under 135 along with Bill Haas (66 on the North) and Charlie Wi (72 on the South).

Any tournament never really starts until the weekend, and that's especially true at Torrey Pines because of the disparity in courses. The average score was 4.7 higher on the South over the first two days, and the 74 players who made the cut will spend the next two days on the tougher South.

That will be another new experience for Snedeker.

He won twice on the Nationwide Tour last year, and he won the 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links, which earned him a trip to the Masters. And there certainly were enormous crowds at Augusta National, although they were more interested in his partners those first two rounds (Fred Couples and David Toms).

But while Snedeker is wide-eyed and talking faster than usual in his Tennessee drawl, he knows he's playing some good golf.

"If I can get my driver under control, I like my chances," he said.

CHAMPIONS TOUR

Fred Funk handled the tradewinds and tricky greens with ease, shooting a bogey-free 7-under 65 to take the first-round lead in the Turtle Bay Championship in Kahuku, Hawaii.

Tom Kite, coming off a second-place tie in the MasterCard Championship, was two strokes back along with David Eger and John Harris in the Champions Tour's first full-field event of the year.

Hale Irwin, the MasterCard winner going for an unprecedented seventh victory in the event, made the turn in 41 and fought back to a 2-over 74.

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