Pebble Beach has short history of great champions

By Doug FergusonJune 14, 2010, 5:10 pm

2010 U.S. Open

The history of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is short. The memories are not.

The course is famous for its sheer beauty, especially the seven holes in the middle that run along the rugged Pacific coastline, and the wall along the 18th fairway that stands between the great meeting of land and sea. Adding to its mystique is the World Hall of Fame champions Pebble produces in the U.S. Open.

The four winners collectively own 202 victories on the PGA Tour and 41 majors.

“Great venues have great winners,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “Most members have it wrong. They think high scores validate their golf course. It’s great champions that validate a golf course, don’t you think? And they’ve all been great tournaments.”

 

Tom Watson
Tom Watson hit one of the most memorable chip shots in golf history at the 1982 U.S. Open. (Getty Images)
No doubt, they have been memorable.

 

It starts in 1972 with Jack Nicklaus hitting 1-iron into the cool, ocean wind on the par-3 17th, the ball striking the pin and stopping a foot away for the birdie that gave him the second leg of the Grand Slam.

Ten years later, with perhaps the most memorable shot of all, Tom Watson chipped in for birdie from behind the 17th green to deny Nicklaus a record fifth U.S. Open. Tom Kite chipped in on the par-3 seventh hole in the blustery, punishing conditions to win in 1992.

And then there was Tiger Woods.

Asked for his favorite memory from 2000, Woods settled on the 3-foot par he made on the final hole. Nothing really stands out from that week because so many shots were right where he was aiming. How else to explain a six-shot lead after 36 holes, a 10-shot lead going into the final round and a 15-shot victory that stands among the great feats in 150 years of the majors?

“I didn’t do anything special that week,” Woods said. “Everything was just on.”

Everything is up in the air going into the 110th U.S. Open, and the fifth at Pebble Beach, which starts next Thursday.

Woods is No. 1 in the world, as he was 10 years ago coming into the U.S. Open on the Monterey Peninsula, but the similarities stop there. His image was shattered during the offseason when he was caught in a web of infidelity, and Woods has not looked the same since returning from a five-month layoff at the Masters and tying for fourth.

For the first time in his career, he failed to finish consecutive tournaments – he missed the cut at Quail Hollow, then walked out in the final round of The Players Championship with a sore neck. The next day, he and swing coach Hank Haney ended six years together.

The real measure of Woods might start at Pebble.

It is a course where Woods feels comfortable, even though he last saw it eight years ago. It is where he became the first player in U.S. Open history to finish at double digits below par (12 under).

“Places like Memorial, Pebble Beach, the Old Course … his history is pretty good at those golf courses,” Paul Goydos said. “If he goes through all those uncompetitive, then you can ask that question.”

In the bigger picture, Woods is four majors behind the record 18 won by Nicklaus. This is an important year with Pebble Beach and St. Andrews on the major rotation. Nicklaus still believes Woods will break his record, although he is curious about these next two months.

“He basically won on those fairly easily through the years,” Nicklaus said. “If he has problems with those golf courses, sure, they won’t come around for a while. Maybe it might be tougher.”

For now, the more tangible rival is Phil Mickelson, who brings as much hope as he does scar tissue to the U.S. Open.

Mickelson is a three-time winner at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and it was at Pebble Beach in the 1992 U.S. Open that he turned pro. He opened with a 68 that year, only to follow with an 81 to miss the cut.

It’s about like his career, filled with ups and downs, the changes sometimes swift and with little notice. Mickelson is trending upward at the moment, and he comes to Pebble Beach as the only player capable of the Grand Slam this year.

His inspirational victory at the Masters, where wife Amy showed up for the first time since being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, allowed him to break out of the pack behind Woods with his fourth major, the most of active players next to Woods.

Mickelson might trade them all for a U.S. Open, the major that is haunting him. He was runner-up a year ago for a record fifth time. From Pinehurst to Shinnecock to Winged Foot, all he has to show for the U.S. Open is a silver medal.

“It’s my national open,” Mickelson said. “Growing up here, that’s a special event for me. I really want to give myself the best opportunity in the U.S. Open. I had a good chance last year – a couple of years I’ve had great chances and haven’t really come through – and it’s the one event that I’d love to win.

“With this tournament being at Pebble … I feel like there’s a good opportunity there.”

He typically plays the week before a U.S. Open to get into the flow of competition. This year, Mickelson took the week off and is spending time at Pebble developing a strategy.

Depending on how Woods fares, Mickelson could go to No. 1 in the world for the first time by finishing as high as second. A victory would allow him to join some elite company – Woods, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer – as the only players in the last 50 years to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam.

This is the 50-year anniversary of what some consider one of the best U.S. Opens ever, a convergence of three great golfers when Palmer held off aging Ben Hogan and Nicklaus, a 20-year-old amateur, in 1960 at Cherry Hills.

Such a scenario is possible at Pebble Beach.

Watson is 60 and was given a special exemption, making him the only player to compete in every U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It was only 11 months ago that he came within an 8-foot putt of winning the British Open at Turnberry, and no one is ruling him out.

Woods and Mickelson represent the present.

The future? It’s loaded.

Already this year 10 players in their 20s have won on the PGA Tour, though not all of them qualified. Among the threats are Rory McIlroy, who shot a course record 62 to win at tough Quail Hollow two days before his 21st birthday. That was the same day that 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 to win on the Japan Tour.

Anything is possible at Pebble Beach, a course that has been magical when the U.S. Open comes to town.

The course is nearly 200 yards longer than it was 10 years ago, most of that length coming on the ninth and 10th that run along the ocean, and on the 13th hole. At 7,040 yards, it is the shortest U.S. Open course since 2004 at Shinnecock Hills.

Length isn’t usually the problem. It’s the wind off the ocean.

“It’s one you can play in many different conditions,” said Nicklaus, who has often said that Pebble Beach was where he would go if he could play only one more round of golf. “It requires not only golfing skills, but discipline. You’ve got to be in control. You never know what’s going to happen.”

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Runner-up McIlroy: 'I should have closed it out'

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 5:18 pm

After taking the 36-hole lead by three and taking a share of the 54-hole lead into the final round, Rory McIlroy failed to keep pace with Francesco Molinari on Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship.

Struggling with a two-way miss throughout the weekend, McIlroy fell four down to Molinari through 10 holes.

The Ulsterman attempted to mount a late charge, with birdies at 12 and 17, but when his eagle putt at the 72nd hole came up inches short, and when Molinari's ball opted not to spin back into the water, the comeback bid came to an end.

His final round of 2-under 70 left him in solo second, two shots behind the champion.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


"I’m just disappointed I didn’t play better over the weekend," McIlroy said. "I was in a great position after two days and struggled yesterday and sort struggled today again, as well. I just couldn’t get it going. I let Francesco get a few shots ahead of me, and I couldn’t claw that back.

“I played some good golf coming down the back nine, hit some better shots, but I need to work on a few things going forward."

McIlroy ended an 18-month worldwide winless drought earlier this year with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but hasn't claimed victory on the European Tour in two years, since the Irish Open in May of 2016.

"I get a bit down on myself because my expectations are high, and with a 36-hole lead, I should have closed it out this week," McIlroy said. "But that’s not taking anything away from Francesco. He played a great weekend and bogey-free around here is some playing. He deserved the win, I need to do a little more work, and I’m looking to forward to getting right back at it at Memorial next week."

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Molinari holds off McIlroy to win BMW PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 3:20 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England - Francesco Molinari's path to the biggest win of his career at the BMW PGA Championship was drama-free until he sized up his approach to the 72nd hole.

Rory McIlroy, his closest rival three strokes back, had just hit to 20 feet to set up an eagle chance. Molinari was between clubs for his third shot and faced a delicate wedge over the water protecting Wentworth's pretty 18th green.

His ball landed short of the pin and span back toward the water. The spectators held their collective breath - so did Molinari - but it came to rest on the fringe, just short of trouble.

''Just a bit of luck at the right time,'' Molinari said, with a smile.

After McIlroy came up inches short with his eagle putt, Molinari rolled in for par from 6 feet for a 4-under 68 that secured a two-stroke victory at Wentworth on Sunday. It was the fifth win of his career, and his most satisfying.

''If I could pick one tournament to win in my career, it would be this one,'' the Italian said at the prizegiving ceremony.

A Sunday shootout between Molinari and McIlroy at the European Tour's flagship event never really materialized.

They entered the final round tied for the lead on 13 under but while McIlroy sprayed his drives left and right, Molinari was the model of consistency and established a three-shot cushion by the turn after birdies at Nos. 3, 4 and 8.

From there on, it was a clinic in front-running from Molinari, who laid up when he needed to and picked up his only shot on the back nine with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 12th.

McIlroy birdied the par 5s at Nos. 17 and 18 but mounted his victory charge too late.

''I didn't feel intimidated at all,'' Molinari said of his head-to-head with the former world No. 1. ''It's just the last couple of holes, he's basically thinking eagle, eagle. I'm thinking par, par, and that makes the whole difference.

''Sometimes I just get too drawn on what the other guy is doing, and I was really good today, hitting good shots and focusing on my process and not worrying about anything else.''

Molinari played his final 44 holes bogey-free. He only dropped two shots all week, one of them coming on his first hole.


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


He will likely climb into the world's top 20 on Monday and has moved into the automatic qualifying places for the European team for the Ryder Cup, which he hasn't played since 2012 when Europe beat the United States in the so-called ''Miracle at Medinah.''

''I'm playing well enough that I shouldn't really worry too much about that,'' Molinari said. ''I should just keep doing my own thing and hopefully things will take care of themselves.''

Molinari previously had five top-10 finishes in the last six years at Wentworth, including being runner-up to Alex Noren last year.

On that occasion, Noren closed with a 10-under 62 and the Swede embarked on another last-day charge 12 months later, a fifth birdie of the day at No. 12 briefly drawing him to within two shots of Molinari.

It was the closest he came, with a bogey at the next virtually ending his bid for victory.

With a 67, Noren was tied for third with Lucas Bjerregaard (65), a stroke back from McIlroy.

McIlroy, the 2014 winner at Wentworth, played what he described as one of his best rounds of 2018 on Friday, a bogey-free 65 that left him with a three-shot lead.

He struggled off the tee in shooting 71 on Saturday and started the final round with errant drives on Nos. 1 and 3 (both right, into spectators) and No. 4 (left). After a bogey at No. 10, he was the only player in the top 10 over par but he birdied the three par 5s coming home to salvage what was otherwise a disappointing Sunday.

''With a 36-hole lead,'' McIlroy said, ''I should have closed it out this week.''

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.


Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship


Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”