PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods felt good about the start at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am until he looked at the leaderboard.
With six birdies, he opened with a 4-under 68 at Spyglass Hill.
With virtually no wind, and as gorgeous conditions as can be found on the Monterey Peninsula, he was far from the only player who was filling up his scorecard with birdies.
Dustin Johnson, with a small measure of revenge on the third hole at Pebble Beach, made two eagles and saw a third chance at eagle land on the edge of the cup. He wound up with a 9-under 63. Former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee also made two eagles at Pebble for a 63.
Over at Monterey Peninsula, Charlie Wi had an outside chance at 59 without even knowing it. Wi wasn’t aware the Shore Course was a par 70, so being 8 under through 13 holes didn’t get his attention. He made one birdie the rest of the way for a 9-under 61.
They were atop the leaderboard, followed by a record-tying performance by Ken Duke — 28 on the back nine a Pebble — that gave him a 64, along with PGA Tour rookie Brian Harman.
It was a perfect day for scenery, and for scoring.
“Especially on courses like this, I can’t get too far behind the lead,” Woods said. “I know there is some colder weather coming in, but I’ve got to take advantage of this. The guys are just tearing the course apart with no wind. I think we saw two at 9 (under), two at 8 and a couple of guys at 7. So you’ve got to take advantage of it.
“Hopefully, in the next two days I can get it going,” he said.
Johnson is turning into his generation’s “Prince of Pebble.” He won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in consecutive years, and then had a three-shot lead at Pebble in the U.S. Open two years ago until he shot 82 in the final round. On the third hole of that round, he hit driver left into the bushes for a lost ball and made double bogey.
On Thursday, he smashed a driver nearly 340 yards over the trees to just short of the green, setting up eagle. Even now, he still thinks about that tee shot in the U.S. Open. Walking off the tee, he said to caddie Bobby Brown, “I could have used that in the U.S. Open.”
“Walking off that hole, I told Bob, ‘This hole owes me a few more than just that one.'”
Johnson overpowered the par 5s at Pebble Beach, the secret to playing that course well. He had a 6-iron for his second shot at the par-5 second for an easy birdie, holed a 65-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole, got up and down from the bunker just short of the 14th for birdie, then cringed when his 40-foot eagle attempt on the 18th just turned away.
“I thought it was going in,” Johnson said. “I was laughing. I made plenty of putts today.”
Hunter Mahan, who went from San Diego to Qatar to Pebble Beach, opened with a 65. Phil Mickelson had a 70.
Woods is part of the celebrity rotation, which was at Spyglass Hill. He is on the opposite side of the course from the actors and athletes who command big crowds and lots of cameras, though his gallery was still among the biggest.
He treated them to golf they expected to see from Woods, who has not been at this event in 10 years. He opened on No. 10 by stuffing his approach to tap-in range, and then had a 15-foot eagle putt that he narrowly missed on the next hole.
Woods only missed two fairways, but they cost him — a bogey on the 13th, failing to make birdie on the par-5 14th. Even so, what really bothered him was his wedge play.
From the middle of the fairway on the 18th, his wedge went over the green, leaving him a tough chip that he nestled down to 3 feet for par. Still, it was a lost opportunity.
One of his two bogeys was sloppy. It came on the short par-4 fourth, with a shallow green set among sand dunes and ice plant at a diagonal angle. Instead of going toward the middle of the green and letting the slope take the ball to the hole, Woods went at the flag. The ball bounced hard over the green and into a sandy patch of dunes, in a foot print.
He did well to blast a wedge some 30 feet past the hole and had a good two-putt from there for bogey.
“I drove it great today,” Woods said. “I drove it on a string. I had it going both ways. Unfortunately, going into the greens, I was not very good at all. I had some wedges and hit some awful golf shots. So I’m going to work on that.”
Even so, he was in good position.
Woods shot 73 the last time he played Spyglass Hill in 2002, and his average score in six appearances was a 71. He was tied for 15th, a solid start in a tournament that unfolds slowly over three courses, and only three players had a lower score at Spyglass Hill.
Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill are par 72s. Monterey Peninsula is a par 70.
Wi didn’t realize that.
He rolled in plenty of putts from the 20-foot range, and then hit an approach that covered the flag on the 13th hole, the last one that runs along the Pacific Coast and the rolling waves. That put him at 8 under with five holes to play, with 11 under needed for golf’s magic number.
“I was looking at the scorecard like, ‘What’s the par here?’ I did not know it was a par 70,” Wi said. “That 59 never crossed my mind. Not once.”
He was more than happy to settle for a 61, the tournament record at Monterey Peninsula (in its third year as part of the rotation).
“Any time you’re shooting 9 under, you’re making putts,” Wi said. “It was really nice to see the ball go in today.”
Woods now heads to Monterey Peninsula, a course he had never played until a practice round this week. Statistically, it was the easiest of the three courses in the opening round, though not by much. All three played about one shot below par.