Sunday, February 12, 2017

Pebble Beach beats Disney to the punch with “Beauty and the Beast” imitation at AT&T Pro-Am

The big news in movies right now is the upcoming release of Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast on March 17th, but the PGA Tour and Pebble Beach beat Disney to the punch by a month with a week of beauty-and-the-beast weather for the AT&T Pro-Am.
A nice change from the horror show of the Thursday and Friday weather, Saturday and Sunday at Pebble Beach were picture-perfect. (photo by author)
I hate to harp on the Monterey Peninsula weather for the AT&T Pro-Am, but weather is so often a big part of the story at any golf tournament, and given the volatility of the conditions at this time of the year in this part of the world, it is always part of the story for this event.

Dating from the early days of the “Crosby Clambake”, when the event was held in January, “Crosby weather” has been a catchphrase for conditions that frequently ranged from cold and damp to downright nasty. Over the last five years or so, while California has suffered through historic drought conditions, the AT&T Pro-Am has been blessed with mostly good weather. Sure, there has been a rain delay or two, and even a pair of waterspouts over Carmel Bay (not affecting play) in 2013, but since 2011 the event has had a disproportionate number of days of beautiful weather, the kind of conditions that the local Chamber of Commerce, and CBS-TV’s golf producers, love.

In 2017, as record-setting rains put paid to the historic drought conditions that have plagued the state of California, the beastly side of Monterey Peninsula weather showed up again for the AT&T Pro-Am. Pounding rain and winds gusting to 35 mph forced a stoppage of play on Thursday, and while play continued on Friday, drizzle and low fog marked the day, with foggy conditions forcing a short play stoppage at Pebble Beach in the early afternoon before halting play altogether at 4:21 p.m.

Weather gurus predicted better conditions for the weekend, sunny and calm, and all concerned had their fingers crossed that they would be right, for the sake of catching up on Saturday to allow a Sunday finish to the tournament. When play was shut down Friday afternoon by fog only 33 players had completed their second rounds, leaving 121 players who would have to be back in position Saturday morning wherever they had been when play was called on Friday – and then all 154 players had to get in their third round.

Saturday dawned calm and dry, with only a few puffy white clouds as stage-dressing. As the the players who still had holes to complete brought  Round 2 to a close, the leaderboard showed a triumvirate at the top: World #1 Jason Day, World #6 (and AT&T spokesperson) Jordan Spieth, and 199th-ranked Derek Fathauer, a no-win journeyman breathing rarefied air on a big stage.

Two-time AT&T Pro-Am winner Brandt Snedeker was T-4 (and six strokes back) at the conclusion of second round play, and another two-time winner, World #4 Dustin Johnson, was not totally out of the picture at 4-under, T-14. These and all the other A-listers would, of course, be playing at Pebble on Saturday, where all the best scenery (and the cameras) are.

The men at the top of the leaderboard reacted in various ways to the Mr Hyde/Dr Jekyll transition in the weather from Friday to Saturday. Jason Day threw his game into reverse on a stretch of those “easy, nothing-special” inland holes that Pebble is “famous” for, carding three bogeys and a double in a five-hole stretch from 11 to 15, before making birdie on 17 and bogey on 18 (his ninth hole). Four birdies in six holes from four to nine were spoiled by a double-bogey on the par-3 fifth, leaving the World #1 sitting T-11 after 54 holes, a drop of ten spots on the day.

Third-round co-leader Derek Fathauer did what many out-of-nowhere leaders/co-leaders do – he faded. Playing out of the limelight at MPCC-Shore, Fathauer carded a one-over 73 and slipped five places to T-6.

The pair of two-time winners mentioned above, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson, each brought their experience at Pebble to bear on the situation today, and took advantage of the weather to move up the scoreboard.

Snedeker leveraged a seven-birdie, two-bogey day into a two-spot bump to solo second at 11-under, and DJ rode a clean six-birdie card to solo third after 54 holes at 10 under par. There was some controversy about the drop that Johnson took on 18 after knocking his second shot into Carmel Bay, but no official action was taken at the time.

Taking the fullest advantage of the Chamber-of-Commerce weather was second-round, and eventually third-round, leader Justin Spieth. Spieth ran away and hid from the rest of the field, racking up his second 65 in a row on the strength of an eight-birdie round that was spoiled only by a tough bogey on #8, the opening stanza of the “Cliffs of Doom” stretch of par-4s that concludes the ocean-side stretch of holes that runs from #4 to #10. He finished the day at 17-under, carrying a 6-stroke lead, and the momentum of a pair of birdies on list final two holes, into Sunday’s final round.

Three surprise movers who all landed at T-6 after 54 holes were Aussie Geoff Ogilvy, who knocked down a clean-card 66 at Pebble; Scott Stallings, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who last notched a “W” in 2014 at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines; and NorCal stalwart Kevin Chappell, who moved up 23 spots after carding a 5-under 67 at Pebble, with two bogeys.

Day Four dawns clear, bright, and beautiful
Sunday at the 2017 AT&T Pro-Am was, if anything, a more beautiful day than Saturday had been – it was the kind of weather that had people checking the ads posted in the window of the real estate office at the Pebble Beach Gallery shops (and then recoiling in amazement, or horror, at the prices…)

Spieth came out of the blocks in the fourth round playing flat, carding one birdie early – on the short par-5 2nd hole – before getting locked in to a string of pars. In the meantime, Snedeker and an even less-likely challenger, 2011 U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, were making birdies.

Kraft had five birdies, three pars, and a bogey on the front nine to go out in 32 before another birdie on the under-appreciated 11th hole pulled him to within three shots of Spieth. Two-time former AT&T Pro-Am champ Snedeker also snuck a bit closer to Spieth with a 2-under front nine, turning at 13-under, five back of the young Texan.

Saturday’s back nine was where Spieth had made a charge, carrying momentum forward from a birdie at the tough par-4 ninth hole, making two more birdies immediately, at 10 and 11, and three more down the stretch, at 15, 17, and 18 – but a similar charge never materialized on Sunday. Luckily for Spieth, Kelly Kraft’s front-nine play didn’t carry forward to the later holes. Kraft pulled to within three strokes of Spieth after eleven holes, but couldn’t muster any more birdies over the last seven holes and so never put any real pressure on the eventual winner.

Spieth opened up a bit of breathing room with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole, though by that point in the tournament only a total meltdown on the 18th hole would have lost the day for him. Even with a flat round that opened par-birdie and closed birdie-par with fourteen pars in between, Spieth hung on for the win.

After Spieth and Kraft, a pair of two-time former champions – Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker – were third and fourth, with the trio of Gary Woodland, Jason Day, and Jon Rahm sharing fifth place. Four-time AT&T Pro-Am winner Phil Mickelson looked like an outside prospect to mount a challenge after 54 holes, but a dearth of birdies, and an imploding back nine 44, which included two bogies, a double, and – wait for it – a quadruple-bogey, dropped him an ear-popping 37 spots to solo 65th, otherwise known as DFL.

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