Snedeker out front in Atlanta, FedEx Cup race

Brandt Snedeker during the third round of the Tour Championship.

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ATLANTA – Brandt Snedeker shot a Saturday-best, 6-under 64 and moved to the front of two lines.

First, the Tour Championship, for he’s tied with Justin Rose. Second, and more lucrative, he is bellied up to the FedEx Cup pay window. The PGA Tour will hand out a $10 million bonus Sunday, and the fast-talkin’, slick-puttin’ redhead from Nashville has the inside track as the projected leader.

One round, big cash, maybe bigger pressure. How does one handle that? Snedeker vows to focus on his own golf, not the scoreboard.

“I actually won’t look at the leaderboard all day,” he said after posting 8-under-par 202, square with Rose and two ahead of Ryan Moore. “My goal is to shoot as low as I possibly can. If that’s 63, it’s 63. If it’s 72, it’s 72. Whatever it is, it’s going to be everything I’ve got.”

Probably a good thing he doesn’t look around, particularly over his shoulder. Lurking are two heavyweights who represent his chief competition in the cash grab: Rory McIlroy is tied for fourth, three shots behind, and Tiger Woods is T-7, four back.

The affable Snedeker came here fifth in points and as one of five players who could claim the Cup and its bonus of 10 extra-large by winning. He also could cash in by finishing second in the tournament, if McIlroy finishes outside the top four and Woods out of the top three.

Jim Furyk, the 2010 FedEx winner, was tied for the tournament lead and a projected third in Cup standings until he hooked a drive into water and triple bogeyed the last hole. For Furyk to claim another Cup, he needs to win the event and have McIlroy finish T-11 or worse, Woods fifth or worse and Snedeker in a three-way tie for second or worse.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your computers.

But, players, don’t count your money just yet.

“Now that I’ve been out here for a while, I realize you don’t play for money, otherwise you’ll be 80 to 125 every year on the money list,” Snedeker said after making six birdies, five from 9 feet and longer. “You play to win championships and the money comes with that.”

Snedeker finds himself in uncharted territory. The $10 mil looms, for one. Secondly, he never has won when leading after 54 holes, which he has done twice. His three PGA Tour victories have come when trailing by five, six and more shots entering the final round. He won this year’s Farmers Insurance Open despite trailing by nine strokes with 16 holes remaining.

“(Winning from up front) is the next step in becoming a world-class player,” he said. “I need to show I can do that.”

And what’s the key to doing that? Patience, he says. He used that word numerous times Saturday night.

“I’m a jumpy guy, to say the least,” said Snedeker, one of four U.S. captain’s picks for next week’s Ryder Cup. “So my biggest thing is trying to stay patient under the gun, and realizing that not every shot is make-or-break Sunday. There’s always more time, always another shot.”

Snedeker marveled over the “amazing” patience of such players as Woods, Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald. Now it’s time to apply.

“It’s just not putting more pressure on the shot than there is already,” Snedeker said. “Every shot tomorrow is the exact same as it was today, and the exact same as it was on Thursday. I need to embrace that. I did a great job of today of staying patient.”

Particularly on the greens. He leads the Tour in putting (strokes gained) and finished in the top 20 the last three years. So he could have become frustrated when missing a pair of 10-foot birdie putts on the first four holes Saturday.

Instead, he rolled in a 20-footer at the fifth. And then a 10-footer at the seventh. And a downhill, snaking 18-footer at 10, his best stroke of the day. And a 16-footer at 17.

Still, he said, “I left a lot of putts out there.”

Which means this: He’s different from you and me. And that goes for more than putting. On a windy Saturday, he hit 17 greens in regulation and 10 of 14 narrow fairways.

He’s playing that kind of golf at time some thought he might be exhausted. He will have played 10 of 11 weeks after the Ryder Cup.

Clearly rest during a rare time off last week helped.

“I slept a lot,” he said. “It was great. Then I got the itch by the weekend and started practicing again. I was able to get my mind right for this week.”

Apparently.

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