2006: Oberholser a homecoming king
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.
What transpired Sunday at Pebble Beach had to happen one day. It was simply a matter of time. And we’re not talking about the sun peeking through at the old Crosby Clambake.
No, the event of Feb. 12 was Arron Oberholser finally ascending into the PGA Tour’s winner’s circle. The Northern California native and former college standout at nearby San Jose State who used to stand toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods in his younger days finally has figured out the most important distance in golf: the 6 inches between his ears.
“I think I can compete with the best players in the world,” he said. “It’s upstairs where I’ve been lacking.”
For the second consecutive week, a first-time winner emerged on the PGA Tour. And like J.B. Holmes in Phoenix the week before, Oberholser was allowed to smile, wave and savor the triumphant walk up 18. There aren’t many walks in golf better than traversing the final fairway at Pebble Beach. When you’re a California kid who has a five-shot lead at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tournament you grew up watching, well, it practically defies words.
“To walk up knowing you’re the champion . . . it’s incredible,” he said.
His even-par 72 and 17-under 271 total left Oberholser, 31, five shots clear of Rory Sabbatini and six ahead of Mike Weir and Jonathan Byrd.
Oberholser and Weir began the final day six shots ahead of their nearest competitors, but the high expectations of an exciting two-horse race quickly disappeared. Weir’s second shot at the par-5 second (influenced by mud caked on his ball) hit a cart path and bounded out of bounds, leading to a double bogey. By the time the Canadian tapped in for bogey on the third green, he trailed Oberholser by five.
Don’t let the wide winning margin fool you, however. With sunshine and coastal winds firming Pebble’s greens and driving up scores (Sunday’s average was 73.567), Oberholser’s final 15 holes were hardly a scenic stroll down 17 Mile Drive – especially considering what happened last time he was in this position.
Two years ago, Oberholser also had a shot at victory at Pebble. But paired with Vijay Singh in the final group on Sunday, he faltered badly. He focused too much on Singh, not the golf course, stumbled to 76 and watched Singh blow by him.
“I just think I’ve matured,” Oberholser said on the eve of last week’s final round, explaining how things would be different. “When you want something too badly, you get in your own way.”
He appeared a little shaky down the stretch until a timely break at No. 15 turned into an unlikely birdie, allowing him to coast home.
He had made bogey from the fairway bunker on the 13th, and flared his second shot on the par-5 14th under a tree in the right rough. He had to punch out sideways, leading to another bogey.
Then came his tee shot on the 15th, even farther to the right. It hit the cart path twice and was headed for trouble when it bounced off a tree and kicked back into an opening. With a view of the green, Oberholser knocked a wedge to 8 feet and turned the mishap into a birdie to restore his confidence.
“Those are the breaks you need to win,” he said.
Oberholser won in his 76th start on the PGA Tour and became the first player since Matt Gogel in 2002 to make the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am his first Tour victory. He earned $972,000, but lost a week off in the process.
Oberholser had planned to move into a new house next week. But his victory at Pebble vaulted him 39 spots to No. 41 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and now he’ll play the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa.
Many believe seeing Oberholser on a world stage is overdue.
“It was going to happen,” he said. “It was just a matter of time.”
– Staff and wire reports