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Things Change But Pebbles Charm Stays

2005 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Tim Herron walked back to the sixth tee Wednesday morning at Pebble Beach and took in a spectacular view of the 513-yard hole, which stretches out toward the Pacific Ocean, rising along the rugged cliffs on the right side of the fairway.
Something didn't look right.
``Wow,'' Herron said. ``Look at those cliffs.''
Then it dawned on him. He never could see the cliffs so clearly because of a large cypress tree. But that tree is no longer there, wiped out by holiday storms. It should make the par 5 play easier, because any tee shot that strayed too far to the right was blocked by the tree. Players either had to go over or around it.
``You can see the whole cliff now, and it's pretty cool,'' Herron said. ``But it changes everything, especially on the second shot. That tree played with your head.''
The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am will have a slightly different look when it gets under way Thursday.
Rain that deluged California six weeks ago also washed out a small section of the 18th fairway about 280 yards from the tee, making the landing area a little tighter. Plus, the two cypress trees replaced in the middle of the fairway were planted about 20 yards farther out than they were.
``I hit a drive where I used to, and it was 15 yards from the water -- not 25,'' Jim Furyk said.
But there are some things about Pebble Beach that rarely change.
One of them is the weather, and that's the good news. A tournament that developed a reputation for ``Crosby weather'' -- cold, rain, wind, rain, fog, rain -- looks as if it will be basking in sunshine for the fifth straight year.
And the field is eclectic as ever.
Because the three courses have room for 180 pro-am teams, the pros range from defending champion Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson to players like Steve Stricker, Garrett Willis and Tom Scherrer, whose only status on the PGA Tour is having won a tournament once upon a time.
Amateurs range from Hollywood stars (Bill Murray, Kevin Costner) to comedians (George Lopez) to athletes (Patriots coach Bill Belicheck, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice) to CEOs from Fortune 500 companies.
Another Pebble tradition over the last two decades is the type of name on the crystal trophy. Only three of the last 21 winners of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am have not won a major.
No other regular PGA Tour event has such a major list of winners over the last two decades. The next best is The Players Championship -- the fifth major -- with 16 of the last 21 champions having also won majors.
So many major winners at Pebble is no fluke.
``It's going to be a slow process of putting yourself in position and never really shooting yourself out of the tournament,'' said Mark O'Meara, a Masters and British Open champion who has won five times at Pebble. ``Then when the final round is played at Pebble, it's not like somebody is going out and shooting super, super low. A lot has to do with the fact the golf course can be a little intimidating at times.''
Furyk cited the quality of the courses -- especially Pebble and Spyglass -- and the size of the greens that require precision iron shots.
He was reminded of that during his practice round Wednesday with former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann. After negotiating a blind tee shot on No. 8, then an approach over a corner of the ocean, the green is about half the size as most he sees on the PGA Tour.
``It amazes me still how small these greens are,'' said Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion. ``But it's a good golf course. And it definitely requires a lot of patience. I'd like to add my name to that list.''
It's an impressive list.
Davis Love III has won twice in the last four years. Mickelson won the longest Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in tournament history, in 1998, when it started in February and ended in August because of rain. Payne Stewart won in 1999, the last time rain cut the tournament to 54 holes. Tiger Woods staged his seven-shot comeback a year later.
Singh made it look easy last year.
Tied with Arron Oberholser going into the final round, Singh missed the first three fairways and made birdie each time, the cruised to a three-shot victory. It proved to be the start of an incredible year -- nine wins, nearly $11 million in earnings, and ending Woods' five-year reign atop the world ranking.
``It was just a good platform,'' Singh said. ``I just played really relaxed from there on and just played great. I think that was a key victory to my great season because it kind of relaxed everything.''
And that might be the biggest key of all.
The celebrities out for a good time also contribute to 6-hour rounds, and so many footprints around the hole on the small greens will making the putting surface as smooth as broccoli. It can get aggravating.
But the payoff is worth it.
Pebble Beach isn't a major, but it is teeming with tradition, and it's a chance to join a major roll call of past champions.
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