High winds take control at Pebble Beach

High winds bend the flagstick at the 18th hole Saturday at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. –– On countless occasions, Wayne Gretzky proved why he was the “The Great One.” He demonstrated Saturday that it wasn’t because he was foolhardy.

Strolling onto the tee box at Pebble Beach Golf Links’ seventh hole, Gretzky shoved both hands in his pockets, bowed his head against a ferocious wind and respectfully declined Graeme McDowell’s request with an outstretched club that he play the shot for him. Gretzky smiled and told McDowell that he was on his own.

“Great,” said McDowell, who perhaps has never in his golf life taken so much time to play a 100-yard shot. Merely standing on the tee box was a challenge at this cutest of golf holes that at this particular moment was the burliest of golf holes.

Three hours into the third round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Mother Nature had taken control. Players, amateurs, caddies, walking officials, CBS crew members, and spectators alike all had one question: “How hard is it blowing.”

Guesses ranged from 25 to 40, but the bottom line is, it felt twice that and all you to do was watch some of the world’s greatest players stand on the seventh tee high above Stillwater Cove and try to hit a green that was but 100 yards away.

“Just a hundred yards,” Dustin Johnson said, standing not far from Gretzky, his playing competitor, and it was hard to tell whether they were in awe or in total bemusement.

When finally McDowell pulled the trigger and hit a 6-iron that carved through the wind, only to settle in rough just beyond the hole, the crowd fully comprehended the challenge that was the forefront. But if there was sympathy for the players, it wasn’t about to stop the fun that everyone was having – players and fans alike.

When he followed with his shot that bore through the wind and settled onto the green perhaps 25 feet left of the hole, Jason Bohn raised his arms as if he had just won the tournament. And when Kenny McDowell, Graeme’s father and playing competitor, followed with a shot onto the green, another huge roar erupted.

Johnson and his playing competitor, John Daly, stood on the tee laughing. Daly’s caddie, Peter Van der Riet watched as his hat blew off his head and over the cliff, though it was saved by a member of the CBS ground crew.

When it was their time to hit, Johnson pulled his low wind-cutter a bit left. But Daly hit a brilliant shot, a low, hard draw that tracked the flagstick all the way, settling inside of 8 feet. The crowd cheered wildly, but minutes later they discovered that for now, the fun was over.

PGA Tour officials blew the air horn, signaling a halt in play. Though it wasn’t raining, the wind was playing havoc with golf balls over at Pebble’s fourth green. Trevor Immelman tried to place his ball down, only to see it roll and roll. When he repeated the task, the same thing happened, and thus did things have to be called to a halt.

No worries at Spyglass Hill GC or Monterrey Peninsula CC, but in this situation, play had to be halted everywhere. For most of the 52 professionals playing at Pebble, it was welcomed news, too, because with nearly every one of Pebble’s 18 holes exposed, it is a seriously difficult challenge.

And the scores reflected that.

At the par 5 sixth, normally a pushover, the first 12 players to take it on made 10 pars and two bogeys. Then came the little seventh, where those same 12 players – Jerry Kelly, Rory Sabbatini, Michael Thompson, Patrick Reed, Blake Adams, Brendon Todd, McDowell, Bohn, Daly, Johnson – were a cumulative 12-over par. Love and Adams made doubles and only Thompson, from 12 feet, made birdie.

Kid Rock, Daly’s amateur partner, clearly has not mastered the knock-down shot, because his tee ball at seven soared high, and right, and most likely found a home somewhere down on the beach. At least it was consistent, because his tee ball on the hole before, the par-5 sixth, had also gone high and right and off the golf course.

Crazy, wild stuff, but finally it was too crazy, too wild. When balls would not stay on the fourth green, officials opted to hose things down, in an effort to add a little stick. No luck. Mother Nature was in a foul mood, the wind was too much, and so as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick made their way to the sixth green, they heard the horn.

The pro football dynamic duo probably wondered what the fuss was all about, but in this game, you cannot toss a challenge flag. Tournament officials had offered a concession to the wind and just after 11 a.m. local time they blew the horn. Of the 154 pros over three courses, under-par scores were hard to come by, with no one better than 2-under. Conditions were just too brutal and so a two-and-a-half hour break was called.

Good for the players.

Bad for the fans who were in attendance, up there at the seventh hole.

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