On a weekend when Mother Nature threw just about everything she had at the golfers competing in the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, one man strode through the wind and rain untouched while many others fell by the wayside. Texan Jimmy Walker, who made 188 starts in PGA Tour events before his first win, at the 2013 Frys.com Open, and his second just five starts after that, is now well-positioned to collect his third win just seven starts after his first.
Friday’s weather reports warned of a potential for a wet round today, but the feared deluge never arrived; instead, it was windy conditions which caused problems. Play was stopped for over two hours when 30+ mile-per-hour winds started moving balls around on the green at Pebble Beach. Play was also stopped at the other two courses, despite their being less affected by the windy conditions, to maintain consistency of play.
Walker didn’t shoot the lowest rounds in either of the first two days of the tournament, but he played consistently and stayed low, posting clean, bogey-free rounds on Thursday and Friday. Play was halted during today’s third round due to high winds – which were most problematic at the very exposed Pebble Beach Golf Links – but even when play resumed, conditions remained difficult. Walker played through it all as if he were the only one in the field that was walking in sunshine and light breezes, unaffected by the weather.
Playing Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course, the least difficult of the three courses by a small margin, but one which has a dozen seaward holes where the windy conditions came into play, Walker posted the day’s lowest score, a 4-under 67, despite carding his first bogey of the week.
Today’s round made Walker the only player to post three rounds in the 60s, and moved him from a two-way tie for first to solo first place with a six-stroke lead – which is what happens when a player is shooting low rounds and moving forward while his closest competitors are racking up bogeys and sliding down the leaderboard faster than the bobsleds that are hitting the ice at the Winter Olympics this week.
Sophomore phenom Jordan Spieth, who will complete his third round on Sunday morning due to today’s delay, was tied with Walker after 36 holes, but found himself 5-over through 15 holes as darkness closed in today, thanks to five bogeys and a double-bogey against two birdies. Hunter Mahan, who narrowly missed a win here in 2011, tread water today with a 1-over 72 at MPCC Shore, moving up to T-2 from his 36-hole third place position, but slipped further behind Walker in relation to score.
Mickelson may be a factor on Sunday
Walker may still be sneaking a peek in his rearview mirror during Sunday’s final round, however, because there is a guy with a great track record on this course who made a move up the leaderboard today.
Phil Mickelson, the man with the best Pebble Beach record in the field with four wins, the last as recent as 2012, has ridden a rollercoaster this week, posting a 5-under 66 in his first round, on the MPCC Shore course, then backsliding to a 1-over 73 at Pebble Beach on Friday. With Spyglass Hill, the toughest – on paper – of the three courses remaining for him to play, “Lefty” stepped up on Saturday, despite the toughest playing conditions of the week, posting a 1-under 71 to move 12 spots up the leaderboard to T-5 at 5-under.
In all fairness, though, Spyglass Hill, while tough, has a higher percentage of sheltered holes than either Pebble Beach Golf Links or MPCC Shore. Only five of the holes at Spyglass Hill are close to the coast, the rest winding through the towering pines of the Del Monte Forest – a factor which might have worked in Phil’s favor today.
Sunday’s final round promises to be exciting, with Mickelson playing two groups ahead of Walker with an eye toward putting up a good number and daring Walker to stay ahead of him. Walker’s six-shot lead is an enviable cushion, but as Jordan Spieth discovered today, when “Crosby weather” strikes at Pebble Beach, things can change in a hurry.