PEBBLE BEACH -- Brandt Snedeker, the smooth-cruising winner of Sunday's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, is a Nashville guy all the way. He grew up there. He still lives there. He went to college there, at Vanderbilt. He plays golf there with singer Vince Gill.

It figures, then, that Snedeker says he is a fan of country music. So what country song title would best describe his career?

"There's a bunch of them," Snedeker said, "because I'm feeling both heartache and excitement. But y'all can come up with a song title for me. Y'all are probably better at that."

Probably not. But I can definitely suggest a song title that Snedeker will not need after Sunday: "If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets, He'd Have a Ball in Mine."

Snedeker's two-stroke victory here was worth a $1.17 million first prize check. So his pockets aren't empty. And he's been as hot as any competitor on the PGA Tour so far in 2013. He's won more money than anyone else. He's had 10 consecutive rounds in the 60's. He's got big goals.

"I would love to be known as the best American golfer," Snedeker said. "I've got a long way to go to do that. But this is a great start to the year. Couldn't have scripted much of a better one."

Or to paraphrase another country song title: If the Pro-Am Was a Fish, He Wouldn't Throw It Back In.

So for the heck of it, let us examine the proposition that Snedeker himself raised: Does he have a rightful and legitimate chance to become the top U.S. golfer?


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At first blush, you'd say no way. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson occupy the top two spots in most people's minds. And justifiably so. Snedeker was runner-up to Woods in one tournament this year, runner-up to Mickelson in another.

On the other hand, Snedeker did win the Tour Championship last year. He is leading the FedEx Cup point standings. With his Pebble victory, he moved up two spots in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 4, trailing only Rory McIlroy, Woods and Luke Donald.

Of those three men, only Woods is American. So at least Snedeker knows exactly what he needs to be considered No. 1 stateside. It would take a few more weeks like the one here at Pebble ... plus finishing ahead of Woods in a few more tournaments ... plus -- and this is the big one -- winning a major championship.

That's the biggest gap on Snedeker's résumé. He has never finished higher than third at a major. It's happened twice: at the 2008 Masters and at the British Open last year. But two months from now at Augusta, Snedeker will be one of the favorites.

"It will be very different," he acknowledged. "I've gone there in the past thinking I can contend. This year, I'm going in knowing that I can contend and knowing that winning is not a far-fetched idea. ... I know that if I play the way I played the last three weeks, there's very few people in the world that can beat me."

Hey, that sort of fits another country song title: "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl." It appears that Snedeker is now doing both.

At age 32, he is a semi-late bloomer on the PGA Tour. He admits that it took him a while to fuse his mindset with his physical capabilities. Snedeker is not a long bomber. In the official Tour statistics, he stands 152nd in driving distance. He makes up for it with accuracy (he's 19th in fairways hit) and good course management.

If you want to make a comparison, Snedeker is more in the mold of a Tom Watson, another nonbomber and great course manager who rose to No. 1 in the world. Snedeker's personality is also of the gentlemanly variety, same as Watson's.

"You've got to accept who you are," Snedeker said. "You've got to play the best with what you've got. I wish I could hit it farther. But I think I'm OK doing it the way I'm doing it right now."

On Sunday, Snedeker made winning look so easy, holding his swing together beautifully from tee to green while racking up seven birdies. His only bogey, a three-putt at the ninth hole when he was too aggressive on a downhill first putt, was merely a pimple on a dog's ... uh, nose. (If you're writing a column with a country song theme, you've got to throw in a dog somewhere.)

It wasn't that Snedeker's competition fell back and let him take the trophy, either. Chris Kirk shot a 66 and finished second. Snedeker's playing partner, James Hahn, began the day tied for the lead but played the first five holes in even par while Snedeker played them in four under.

"I thought I had a small chance to win," Hahn said, "and Brandt made it clear it was very small. He rolled them in early, and I didn't. He rolled them in late, and I didn't. ... I'm sure if you ask him, it was never a doubt that he was going to win the golf tournament."

Did Hahn learn anything else about Snedeker while playing with him?

"I learned that he is a better guy than he is a golfer," Hahn said. "The dude is world class."

A nice guy finishing first? Man, it really is difficult to make a good country song about someone like that. But let's just say that if jukeboxes took birdie putts instead of dollars, Snedeker would boogie all night long. Politely, of course.

And in April at the Masters, he might do it on a very big stage.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.