PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It’s tempting to write here that Jordan Spieth stole the show Saturday, shooting a 7-under 65 to take control of this AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
But that wouldn’t be accurate. Whenever he plays here at Pebble, Justin Timberlake is always the main attraction.
For good reason this year. A near-ace, a pair of chip-ins, several clutch putts – it was all on display in the third round, much to the delight of the throng of fans that were following him.
“This guy brought his A-game today, boys,” said Justin Rose, Timberlake’s partner.
At first glance, Rose and Timberlake are an unlikely team – though the same age, 36, the Englishman wouldn’t seem to be an ’N Sync fan. But they met a few years ago on the range at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., when Timberlake was in town to play with a friend. They spent time together there, then met up on a few occasions in the Bahamas. Last November, they reeled in a 40-pound wahoo. “I thought he was going to have to tap out,” Rose joked, “but he eventually got him into the boat.”
They stay in frequent contact throughout the year, chitchatting about work and family, like normal friends, famous or otherwise. It was Timberlake who persuaded Rose to add Pebble to his schedule. Rose tied for sixth last year in idyllic weather.
To prepare for this tournament, Rose and Timberlake played a few rounds together in Los Angeles during an off-week last month. Timberlake, a 4 handicap, was struggling with his game, and that can be terrifying for an amateur entering a high-profile event like the Clambake.
“As fun as it is, there’s a lot of attention,” Rose said. “It’s not an easy week for the amateurs, either. There’s a lot of scrutiny on them. If you’re not comfortable with your game, it’s a tough place to be for an amateur. But when you find the right pairing, you can always make it fun.”
The first few rounds this week weren’t much fun for anyone, with sideways rain and 40-mph gusts. Rose managed to play those two days in 2 under. “I wouldn’t even dream of playing golf in the elements we got hit with,” Timberlake said. “But to watch him really go to work and just smash it through it, it’s like, oh, yeah, these guys are really good.”
Timberlake impressed in other ways. After putting out on a hole at Spyglass, he grabbed a guitar and sang a cappella for a group of about 20. “We’re all good at our thing,” Rose said.
Turns out they were both pretty special Saturday on a postcard day at Pebble.
On the seventh tee, Rose grabbed his phone and took a selfie with Timberlake as he hit his tee shot. “It’s one of those moments you should capture,” he said. But Rose almost missed the end result – Timberlake’s wedge shot landed just past the flag and nearly sucked back into the cup for an ace. He settled for a tap-in birdie.
“That would have been something,” Timberlake said later.
“When the crowds turn up, he plays his best, or when there’s the iconic seventh hole at Pebble, he’ll stiff it,” Rose said. “You know what I mean?”
“I just close my eyes, really.”
“It’s all skill,” Rose said.
The good times continued to roll on the back nine, with Timberlake chipping in for birdie on the 16th hole. When he left his bunker shot short of the green on 17, he was unfazed.
“You know what, Willie Mac?” Timberlake said to Will MacKenzie, the other pro in the group. “This one might go in, too.”
And it did, clanking off the flagstick and into the cup. Timberlake flung his wedge to his caddie and showboated around the green, bowing to the crowd and pretending to walk straight to the next tee. Rose and MacKenzie roared with laughter.
On 18, it was Rose’s turn to contribute, and he used a fairway wood to chip in from behind the green. He celebrated with Timberlake and tenderly patted him on the left cheek.
“What a shot, dude,” Timberlake said.
The duo’s birdie-birdie-birdie finish capped a 9-under 63 and pushed them to 16 under, enough to make the 54-hole team cut.
“Today,” Rose said, “is one of the most fun days of golf I’ve ever had.”