PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – In what Robert Louis Stevenson called “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea,” the sea was winning Wednesday at Pebble Beach.
Jimmy Walker stood in the bunker next to the sea wall along the 18th fairway, soaking up the scenery. Every 15 seconds, waves crashed into the rocks and sent a spectacular splash of white surf some 15 feet high.
There was so much salt water in the front of the bunker that the father of Harris English said to Bob Estes, “Is this played as a waste area?” Estes smiled and pointed to the rakes placed neatly next to the sand. “No, these are bunkers,” he replied.
If the final day of practice for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was any indication, then this could be a special week.
Not just because Tiger Woods is back at this event for the first time in 10 years. He practiced on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula, which he had never seen. The last time he played, Poppy Hills was part of the rotation.
And not just because of the unique blend of amateurs from the world of Hollywood, sports and Wall Street. One group at Pebble featured San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, quarterback Alex Smith, retired lineman Harris Barton and Deutsche Bank Americas chief executive Seth Waugh.
There are times when the beauty of Pebble Beach makes a six-hour round tolerable.
No one was in any hurry Wednesday.
“If you have a bad experience here, it can feel like the longest week of your life,” Geoff Ogilvy said as he walked up the fourth fairway at Pebble, his head turned to the right to gaze at the sea. “If it’s a good experience, it’s enjoyable. And if it’s like this, it can feel like the greatest week of the year.”
It proved to be a tonic for Spencer Levin.
Only four days ago, Levin was poised to win his first PGA Tour event when he took a six-shot lead into the final round of the Phoenix Open. He found himself rushing, just wanting the final round to be over, and he kept dropping shots. A double bogey on the 15th hole doomed him, and Kyle Stanley rallied from eight shots behind to win.
Levin was heartbroken, which was to be expected.
“I was really bummed out Sunday night, pretty bummed out Monday,” Levin said. “But I got here, and then I was like, `Man, I get to play Pebble Beach today, so that’s pretty cool.’ It’s not like you’re going home and playing the muni in your backyard. `Wow, I’m at Pebble.’ So I didn’t think about it much playing out here.”
Davis Love III is making his 27th start at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
He was part of the washout in 1996 when the tournament was canceled because only 36 holes could be completed. He was there in 1998, when players had to return in August to get in three rounds and make it official. He won in 2001 and 2003 in good weather. He has been part of 54-hole events won by Payne Stewart and Dustin Johnson.
Even someone of his experience realizes this week is something special.
“I’ve never seen three golf courses in this good of shape,” Love said. “Guys that have played a lot this year said these are the best greens they’ve seen so far this year. You don’t usually hear that when you get to Pebble, Spyglass.”
The condition of the greens was one of the things that drove Woods away. Along with the occasional bad weather and six-hour rounds – it’s mostly a lot of standing around on the tees – there was a feeling that bumpy greens from 360 pairs of shoes eroded his confidence.
Then again, Woods is known to putt these poa greens better than most. It’s a skill to get the right pace on the medium-length putts, and having the confidence to drill the short putts.
“I think I’ve had my share of success on poa greens, just because the fact I grew up on it,” Woods said. “To come out here, popping it, it’s like second nature. My stroke does change. I don’t want it to change, but it does. It reverts back to how it was when I was a kid and how I putted. It’s worked out.”
The nasty weather – “Crosby weather” as it was known when Bing Crosby ran the show – can be overrated. After that bad patch of rain more than a decade ago (Woods won in 2000 on a Monday), there has been only one bad week of weather.
“I don’t think of this as a terrible weather tournament in history. Sure, we’ve had some rainouts. But I’ve seen a lot of nice days,” Love said. “It’s fun to play when it’s like this.”
The week will turn serious at some point, at least for the 156 players.
Woods is making his U.S. tour debut, having finished third in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago. It was a rare occasion when Woods had a share of the 54-hole lead and failed to win, yet considered it progress on what he hopes will be the road back to the top.
He is playing this week with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, and they start the three-course rotation Thursday at Spyglass Hill. Woods played a practice round there on Tuesday and had never seen it so dry and fast.
D.A. Points is the defending champion, although no one could be faulted for overlooking him. Woods commands a lot of attention this week, and what made Points’ win so compelling last year was having Bill Murray – comedian, actor, longtime Pebble clown – as his partner.
Among those in the field are Phil Mickelson, whose season is off to a sluggish start, and Padraig Harrington, who has become a regular at this event. Harrington feels the conditions give him a slight advantage because it’s the kind of weather he played in Ireland. He might be one of the few guys disappointed this week.
For everyone else, it’s a week to appreciate.
“This is why we come here,” Love said. “To get days like this.”
Watch first- and second-round coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET.