PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Steve Marino isn’t sure where he stands in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, even though his name is atop the leaderboard and no one is within four shots of him to par.
That’s not unusual for this event, which is played over three courses with no cuts made until Saturday.
“Doesn’t really seem like I’m leading the tournament,” Marino said after his 6-under 66 at Pebble Beach on Friday. “Come Saturday night, if I’m in the same position I am right now, it’s definitely going to feel different because we’ve got everybody on Pebble Beach and we’ve got one round left.”
But there are reasons to pay attention to Marino beyond his two-day total of 13-under 131.
He began the tournament with a 65 at Spyglass Hill, despite not making a birdie on any of the par 5s. He followed with a 66 at Pebble Beach, ending his round with three birdies on the last four holes.
Marino has the low scores of the tournament on both courses he has played.
Next up is the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, a par-70 gem with the fastest set of fairways in a week so dry and impeccable that the “lift, clean and place” policy is not being used.
Marino already is considered one of the best on the PGA Tour without a victory. He has been a runner-up three times, once in a playoff at Colonial, and has never finished lower than 80th on the money list. He opened his year at the Sony Open, where he hit a 3-wood off the slope of a bunker and onto the green at the final hole and nearly forced a playoff.
Might this be the week he breaks through?
“There really hasn’t been a weakness to my game over the last two days,” he said.
Marino will try to stay atop the leaderboard at Monterey Peninsula as the show comes to Pebble Beach on Saturday, the day CBS Sports traditionally spends most of its air time capturing the flavor of this tournament instead of the guys who do this for a living.
That would include everyone from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick to actor Ray Romano to comedian Bill Murray, whose pro partner might be worth some attention himself.
That would be D.A. Points, who opened with a 63 at Monterey Peninsula when Murray was up to his antics, and struggled at the start of his round at Spyglass Hill when Murray was far more subdued.
Points could only wonder if their pro-am score of 59 spooked Murray, for it was a little quiet at Spyglass. Points managed to rally with four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and shot 70 to reach 9-under 133.
So maybe it’s best to get Murray wound up, which might settle Points down.
Or maybe not.
“I’m not going to do that, because I’m not going to feed the beast,” he said. “I’m certainly going to just try and go about my business and try to have fun with him.”
The crowds are expected to be larger than ever in such splendid weather. There are few places more enjoyable in golf than Pebble Beach in mild temperatures and clear views of the rocky coastline and rolling surf.
Right in the middle of all this will be rookie Keegan Bradley, who will have a Hall of Fame following. He is the nephew of Pat Bradley, who won three straight LPGA Tour majors the year he was born.
A St. John’s graduate, Bradley shot 69 at Spyglass Hill and was at 8-under par.
Another shot back was a large group that included Padraig Harrington, whose all-Irish group – the amateurs are famed Irish businessmen J.P. McManus and Dermot Desmond – has been invaded by the leader.
Marino is not sure how he was invited to McManus’ charity pro-am last summer, but he loved it. He wound up paired with Desmond and playing alongside Harrington and McManus for the first three days.
“He seems to be Irish,” Desmond said. “He’s always smiling, and at the same time he has a fantastic golf game. He’s got a great temperament. Even when he bogeyed the 14th, he didn’t get irritated. He just said, ‘I have to get that one back.’ And he got it back.”
Marino knocked in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th, then made a mental error.
After he and Harrington hit their tee shots on the 14th, they started reminiscing about the U.S. Open last summer, when the 14th was one of the toughest holes at Pebble Beach.
“It was silly,” Harrington said. “We were talking about how tough this was at the U.S. Open, and that we both had made four pars and could have sold that to half the field. And then we both made a mess of it.”
Marino was in the right rough after his second shot, still a good angle at the flag. But his wedge ran up the ledge of the steep bunker and turned left instead of right, tumbling into the sand. He did well to blast out to 12 feet and narrowly missed the par putt.
The Irishman made pars the rest of the way for a 68. Marino poured it on with three birdies.
Dustin Johnson, trying to become the first player to win three straight times at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, is more interested in making the cut. He had a 1-under at Spyglass and was two shots below the projected playing cut – and 13 shots behind Marino.
Phil Mickelson did a much better job with a 67 at Spyglass, moving him to 4 under for the tournament.
They will be at Pebble Beach on Saturday, after which everyone will have a clear view of where they stand.
Marino, though, looks tough to beat at the moment.