PGA Tour rookie Brandt Snedeker got just a taste of what it feels like to be Tiger Woods on Friday as he battled to keep his lead in the Buick Invitational.
Snedeker, a virtual unknown who became an instant fan favorite with his scintillating 61 on Thursday, carded a two-under 70 for 131 on Friday to stretch his lead in the US$5.2 million tournament to three strokes.
"I had a blast," said the engaging 26-year-old from Tennessee. "The crowd was unbelievable. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before. They were rooting me on, and it really got me around the last five or six holes."
Snedeker said the support helped him overcome struggles with his driver, which could have doomed his effort on the unforgiving Torrey Pines South Course.
Woods, the two-time defending champion here, had been looking forward to tackling the South Course, after posting a 66 on the less formidable North Course on Thursday.
However, the world No. 1 failed to gain any ground, finishing with an even-par 72 for 138, tied for 12th place.
American Charles Howell had sole possession of second place after an eight-under 64 that included nine birdies and one bogey on the North Course.
That put him at 10-under 134 for the tournament, one shot in front of South Korean Charlie Wi (72), Bill Haas (66) and Rich Beem (68).
Despite his lead, Snedeker said he would have to be more accurate off the tee over the weekend, when the field plays the final two rounds on the South Course.
"I drove it, hopefully, about as bad as I can drive it today," he said. "If I can just kind of tighten the driver up a little bit, I should be in pretty good shape going into Saturday and Sunday."
Snedeker said the sudden attention from the gallery was a boost, not a burden.
"I cannot tell you how unbelievable it was walking down every fairway and having the crowd cheer me on," he said.
Snedeker called the ovation he received walking up the 18th fairway "the highlight of my life so far."
"I thought that's what it felt like to be Tiger Woods, to see those people out there cheering you on," he said.
Snedeker's round included four birdies and two bogeys. His first birdie came at the par-three third, where he holed a 40-foot putt.
Woods, seeking a seventh US PGA Tour victory in as many starts, said Snedeker would have to play at a high level over the weekend to hold off the chasing pack.
"He's playing well," Woods said. "He played well yesterday and obviously consistent today, so we'll see what happens on the weekend. There's a bunch of guys with a chance, and the South Course, the way it's playing, is going to be a very stern test for all of us."
Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who struggled on the South Course on Thursday, fired a 66 on the North for 140 and was one shot ahead of Fiji's Vijay Singh, who also posted a 66 to just make the cut.