Pebble Beach's seaside 18th has no rival

No. 18 at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – We cut to the action in the second round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am where there’s a shot to be played. But not just any shot. It is a 10-foot birdie roll, a much-needed jump-start to a round that is eight holes old, but still sputtering. It needs to be studied, to be measured, to be pondered, to be treated with the utmost respect . . . but wait . . . Bryce Molder has turned left and seems to be mesmerized, or at least lost in thought.

Curious, perhaps. Until you realize there’s good reason. He’s playing the 18th hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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Walking not to the green, but toward the awe-inspiring view of Stillwater Cove, Molder marveled at waves that crashed into the wall and spit spray to impressive heights. In fact, Aaron Baddeley said he had talked to Tim Herron the day before and Herron had talked of being sprayed during his opening round.

On Day 2, at least in the first half of the day, there was just as much fury rolling in and, oh, how that adds to the aura of a day of golf at this American jewel.

“It’s an unbelievable final hole to hit good shots on,” said Geoff Ogilvy, “and it’s always better play when the waves are like this. I think when people see Pebble Beach on TV and think of playing here, they fantasize about playing the 18th when the waves are like this.”

Mind you, Ogilvy’s day had ended brilliantly – a birdie at the majestic par-3 17th and an eagle at the 18th, his 5-wood shot from 236 yards setting up an 8-foot roll. Instead of being level par and tied for 82nd, the Aussie was tied for 37th, sitting 3 under. Good cheer, of course, but the truth is, playing Pebble Beach - particularly the 18th hole when Mother Nature is frisky - gets the juices flowing, Ogilvy said.

He is not alone.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Chris Stroud, who is playing this tournament for the sixth straight year and envies those colleagues who’ve played it so many more times. “To me, it’s just a perfect fit to an awesome golf course.”

It could be argued that it’s the most revered hole on the American golf landscape. For the tournament, it is stretched to 543 yards, a distance that is hardly a problem for today’s best players, but given the right-to-left shape of the hole and the daunting presence of the ocean all the way down the left, it gives you plenty to think about on the tee. Throw in two trees that are about 250-260 yards out and a sprawling bunker down the right that basically buries your birdie chance and you’ve got a classic par 5.

And if veterans of countless rounds in this tournament think that, imagine the thoughts of a 20-year-old amateur seeing Pebble Beach for the first time.

“I said, ‘Wow, how great is this?’ ” said Baddeley, who was given an exemption into the 2000 U.S. Open here and is playing the AT&T for the fifth time. “It’s a great risk-reward. You can play it as a three-shotter every time, hit iron, iron, iron, or you can hit driver and try to get it down there. It’s a great finishing hole.”

Baddeley said yesterday’s waves brought back memories of watching one year when Mickelson won and at the 18th “huge waves were crashing; it makes it look spectacular.”

Such a setting, even in a steady drizzle and the coolish temperatures that enveloped this corner of heaven, gave Baddeley reason to get a bit romantic.

“I was actually thinking of Graeme McDowell a few years ago (2010), when he won here, how great a walk that would be to win the U.S. Open and walk up this hole.”

No such walk was possible for Baddeley or anyone else Friday, not with it being the AT&T instead of the U.S. Open, and not with it being Round 2 instead of Round 4. But that’s not to say it doesn’t offer the chance for goosebumps, because it does. “All the history, all the tradition, you’ll never get tired of playing it,” Robert Garrigus said.

As if the drive and the second shot don’t offer enough challenges, the fury of Stillwater Cove dominates your attention.

“You’ve got to make sure you focus (on the shot) there,” Stroud said, after breathing a sigh of relief. His drive had split the fairway with a slight draw and “we figured it was left-center,” he said. “Then we got down there and it was barely up (on the fairway), so that erosion is tightening up that fairway a little bit.”

Though he failed to make a birdie, Stroud realized it could have been worse, something others discovered, much to their disgust. As a shortish par 5, the 18th affords plenty of chances to players, and it ranked as the third-easiest in Round 2, a 4.827 field average for 52 pros, yet it cannot be considered a pushover.

Neal Lancaster was among those who discovered the hole’s teeth as he yanked one left into Stillwater Cove, drove his third shot into the face of the bunker, and made a double bogey. Rod Pampling, driving it out-of-bounds right, and Mathew Goggin, pulling it left and over the seawall, also made doubles.

“Definitely one of the best driving holes - and I believe one of the best finishing holes - there is,” Stroud said. “It’s a par 5, it has a lot of excitement, both the first and second shots are tough, and if you pull it off, you have a good chance for a 3.”

Oh, and it has the waves, which truth be told are worth the price of admission.

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