Johnson leads Weir by four at Pebble Beach

By Associated PressFebruary 14, 2009, 5:00 pm
2007 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. ' Dustin Johnson poured in one last birdie at Poppy Hills, a quick putt from 7 feet above the hole that broke sharply into cup for a 5-under 67 and a four-stroke lead Saturday in the AT&T National Pro-Am.
 
There to celebrate his third straight round in the 60s were no more than about two dozen fans.
 
It was easy to overlook Johnson on Saturday, for the crowds typically flock to Pebble Beach to watch the celebrities and their follies. But if he can put together one more round, the 24-year-old Johnson will be difficult to ignore.
 
Dustin Johnson tees off at Pebble Beach
Dustin Johnson is in position for his second PGA Tour win. (Getty Images)
By overpowering the par-5s at Poppy Hills ' birdies on all of them, with three eagle attempts ' Johnson seized control at Pebble Beach and was poised to capture his second PGA Tour event in his last nine starts.
 
Johnson, a natural athlete with buckets of talent, didnt get as much attention as other players in their 20s last year, such as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas. Then again, his lone victory came at Turning Stone, part of the Fall Series, when the stars stay home.
 
Another victory would put him in the conversation of rising young stars, put him into the top 50 in the world to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship and make him eligible for the first two majors, including his first trip to the Masters.
 
I think I proved I can play with these guys, Johnson said. If I play better a few more times, Ill get all the credit I need.
 
Johnson was at 15-under 201 and will be in the final group with Mike Weir, who had a 69 at Spyglass Hill.
 
The big question is whether anyone gets to play.
 
Spots of sunshine returned to the Monterey Peninsula for the third straight day as the celebrities took over Pebble Beach, but the forecast is gloomy for the final round ' an 80 percent chance of rain, expected to be heavy at times.
 
Pebble Beach has not had a Monday finish since Tiger Woods great rally in 2000, and it was 10 years ago this week when the late Payne Stewart birdied his final hole for a one-shot lead after 54 holes, which turned into victory when rain shortened the tournament.
 
Johnson appears to be in good shape either way.
 
Weir was plodding along at Spyglass Hill until he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth hole, then hit the ball as well as he ever has. The former Masters champion hit a hybrid for his second shot to 8 feet on the sixth, a 3-wood to 6 feet on the par-3 seventh, and a 5-iron to 5 feet on the eighth. Trouble is, he missed all the putts.
 
But he knocked in a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 69 that put him in the last group Sunday.
 
That putt on the last hole made it a little nicer finish, Weir said.
 
Retief Goosen was not so fortunate. Even after opening the tournament with rounds of 68-64, the two-time U.S. Open champion was concerned about how poorly he was hitting the ball, especially off the tee. That caught up to him at Spyglass, where he shot a 74 to fall five shots behind.
 
There was a mixture of laughs and groans at Pebble Beach, although sometimes it was tough to tell the celebrity from the pro.
 
Bill Murray strutted to the hole after a birdie putt, wearing a feather and a heart in his cap in honor of Valentines Day. Perhaps the most fitting scene was eight-time national surfing champion Kelly Slater going down to the beach ' with a wedge, not a board ' to play back toward the green. The next shot wound up in some kelp.
 
And then there was Phil Mickelson, putting up another big number.
 
Mickelson, who took an 11 on the 14th hole last year, was quietly putting together a good round and looked as though he would break 70 for the first time this year until he hooked a 5-iron off a cart path and out-of-bounds on the par-3 12th, leading to a triple bogey. Lefty rallied, however, smoking a tee shot with the wind at his back on the 18th, leaving him a 5-iron into the green for a two-putt birdie to make the cut on the number.
 
His comrades in the top five of the world ranking were not so fortunate. Padraig Harrington broke par for the first time this week with a 71 at Spyglass, but he missed the cut. So did Vijay Singh, playing for the first time since minor knee surgery the week after Kapalua.
 
Johnsons lead is the largest at Pebble Beach since Mickelson had a seven-shot margin in 2005.
 
Its probably been in college since the last time I had a pretty big lead, Johnson said.
 
But he doesnt plan to be conservative, which is not a bad idea. Weir has seen how quickly fortunes can change at Pebble in any weather. It was three years ago when Weir was tied for the 54-hole lead with Arron Oberholser, and three holes into the final round he was five shots behind.
 
You dont really go away from your game plan at all, said Johnson, who began the tournament with a 65 at Pebble Beach. I played well here the first day, and looking forward to tomorrow. Not going to change the game plan at all.
 
Divots: David Toms, who was No. 66 in the world and hopeful of moving into the top 64 to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship, missed the cut by four shots. Had he taken the week off, Toms likely would have moved into the top 64. Davis Love III shot a 70 at Poppy Hills and was at 5-under 211, but hell have to go it alone on Sunday. He and his amateur partner, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, did not make the pro-am cut.
 
Related Links:
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”