Notes: Phil hardly fazed by 5-shot deficit at AT&T
2013 Pebble Beach Nat'l Pro-Am: Celebs
Check out images of Paulina Gretzky, Jim Harbaugh, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Murray and more from the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One week after having put on a scoring display in the Arizona desert, Phil Mickelson confronted the bumpy poa annua greens on the edge of the ocean. On the surface, it would seem that he lost the battle with a round of 1-under 69 at Monterey Peninsula. But the story has more depth to it.
Which is why Mickelson hardly seemed fazed as his title defense to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am got off to a sketchy start.
True, he’s five back of leaders Hunter Mahan and Russell Knox, but Mickelson was nine back after 18 holes a year ago and five at the midway point before a 70-64 weekend brought him his fourth win here. Call it a veteran’s perspective.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years here is you need to be patient,” Mickelson said. “There’s plenty of birdie holes throughout the three courses. Hopefully, I’ll get a good run tomorrow and try to shoot myself up into contention.”
Mickelson will take on Spyglass Hill in Friday’s second round, a course that offers four par 5s (there are just two at Monterey Peninsula) and greens that are widely considered to be less bumpy than those he played Thursday.
Last week’s winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open thought he hit it just as well as he did in the desert, but he two-putted each of his last seven greens, needed 30 in all, and bogeyed two of his last five holes. “The difference is on the greens,” Mickelson said. “It’s a lot more challenging to make a lot of putts here than it is in Phoenix.”
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SCHOOL’S OUT, AND SO IS LEFTY: If Mickelson’s pedestrian start was a surprise, his announcement later was not. He will skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship for the second straight year and the third time in four.
Save your conspiracy theories. The left-hander is being consistent, because as he usually does, he does not play when it’s his children’s school vacation.
“I am by no means making a statement about the tournament,” Mickelson said. “I love the tournament. It’s one of my favorite of the year. I love being in Tucson (Arizona); it’s where I won my first PGA Tour event.
“But my kids are out of school that week, and we are taking a family trip.”
The cutoff for qualifying for Accenture will be Monday, so Mickelson’s announcement is good news for whoever sits 65th, since he’d be moved into the field. Presently, No. 65 in the world rankings is Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.
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TOUGH DAY ON THE GREENS: Tough to putt? You don’t have to tell that to two-time champion Dustin Johnson. Also in the “celebrity rota” that started at Monterey Peninsula, Johnson struggled mightily on the greens.
“Must have had 40 putts,” he said, groaning.
Not quite. The stats had him for 34, but there were two three-putts and one ugly four-putt, at the par-3 ninth hole. Johnson said he jammed his uphill putt 3 feet past the hole, then blew that one 3 feet by. For good measure, he missed again.
Throw in a double at the par-4 sixth and three other bogeys and Johnson’s round of 3-over 73 leaves him in a share of 125th, a whopping nine back.
Hardly the sort of stuff one would have expected from Johnson, though it hardly seemed to matter to his gallery. Whether they were there to see the two-time winner here or to watch his playing partner, Wayne Gretzky, or Johnson’s significant other these days, Paulina Gretzky, there were plenty of eyes on them all a day.
Fortunately, said Johnson, Gretzky was doing what he made a career out of in the NHL: great assistance.
“He played great. He carried me,” Gretzky said, though he added that there wasn’t much hockey talk out there.
“It was all golf.”
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DIAL LONG DISTANCE: Then again, Ryuji Imada discovered a secret to the greens at Monterey Peninsula. “Hit and hope,” said the 36-year-old veteran.
He was laughing, because a crazy thing happened to turn a decent day into a very, very good one. Imada poured in a 40-footer for birdie at the par-3 seventh, slam-dunked a 30-footer at the par-4 eighth and capped his day with another 30-footer, at the par-3 ninth.
Birdie, birdie, birdie, and just like that, Imada signed for a 5-under 65 to settle into a share of third place, one behind Russell Knox (65 at Monterey Peninsula) and Hunter Mahan (6-under 66 at Pebble Beach).
ACE UP HIS SLEEVE: Not that Imada’s birdie putt at the seventh wasn’t pretty good, but it proved to be rather anticlimactic. That’s because one of the amateurs in the group holed a 7-iron from 155 yards for an ace.
And it wasn’t just any amateur, either. It was Ollie Nutt, the longtime tournament director of this AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Add in the fact that he’s a member at Monterey Peninsula and was playing with his son, Bret Nutt, a club professional who was given a sponsor exemption, and it made for a rather surreal experience.
HE’S A GUY WHO NEEDS IT: Of course, all the talk of the bumpy and tough-to-read Monterey greens had to be countered with what Knox did. The unheralded Scotsman one-putted a dozen times, including each of his last five holes, and knocked down eight birdies to get into his first-ever PGA Tour lead.
OK, so he’s playing in only his 26th PGA Tour tournament, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that it was a meaningful day for the 27-year-old who now calls Jacksonville Beach, Fla. home.
Having finished 143rd on the 2012 money list in his rookie year, Knox has conditional status this year and doesn’t figure to get in many tournaments early. He played at the Sony, but missed the cut, and unsuccessfully took on the Monday qualifiers for the Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Disappointed, yes, but hardly discouraged.
“I have a lot of confidence. I just haven’t quite had the chance to play,” he said. “But it’s a mammoth year for me, so it’s nice to have had a break. Now I’m itching to go.”
After four birdies in his first seven holes, Knox turned in 3-under 33, then shook off a bogey at the first with birdies at the second and third holes. When he added two more, at the sixth and eighth, he was sitting atop the leaderboard with Mahan. Pretty impressive stuff, and it was suggested that Knox could re-think travel plans to upcoming tournaments on the Web.com Tour in Panama and Colombia.
He smiled, but conceded he’d focus on the next couple of days and not any calls to his travel agent.
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HE’S NOT STAR-STRUCK: If you’re thinking a Dallas kid such as Jordan Spieth would be ecstatic over his round of golf alongside Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, think again. They don’t come much cooler than Spieth, the 19-year-old who recently left the University of Texas and is playing in his second tournament as a pro.
And besides, he counts Romo among his friends.
“I’ve known him since I was 16. I’ve played with him numerous times,” Spieth said.
But it was the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am? Spieth shrugged.
“I wasn’t nervous. I just started out and couldn’t loosen up.”
He doubled his third hole, the par-5 12th, but eventually scratched back to get to 1-under through 11. Two bogeys against a birdie over his final seven left him at level-par 70, tied for 79th.
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SHORT SHOTS: With Scott Langley having opened with a 5-under 65 at Monterey, it was a good day for him and his amateur, Doug Mackenzie, a veteran at this event and a scratch handicap. They combined to shoot 11 under to set the pro-am pace. . . . Gretzky clearly had his hand in a lot of scoring, because despite Johnson’s 3-over round, their team shot 9-under 61 and sits in a tie for third. . . . If we are to have a repeat of the “Cindrella Story” of two years ago – you know, Bill Murray winning this thing – there will have to be some magic the next two days. Murray and D.A. Points, with whom the actor won in 2011, opened with a 5-under at Monterey Peninsula, but that’s good for only a share of 59th. . . . Of the eight best scores, four were shot at Monterey Peninsula (Knox, 64; Imada, Langley, Greg Owen, 65s), three at Pebble Beach (Mahan, 66; Matt Every and Ted Potter Jr., 67s), and Seung-Yul Noh had the lowest at Spyglass Hill (67). . . . From the Ouch Dept.: Veterans David Duval and Billy Andrade each went for 79 at Spyglass Hill. . . . John Daly opened with a 77 at Pebble Beach, though it was done in bizarre fashion. He opened with five pars and played the last eight holes in 2 under. But on holes 6-10, Daly went bogey, double, bogey, double, bogey. . . . The field average at Pebble was 71.615. It was 71.615 at Spyglass Hill and 69.596 at Monterey.