On a day when the weatherman promised rain, but thankfully failed to make good on that promise, players at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am had sun, cloud, and light breezes to contend with. A pair of rare funnel clouds appeared offshore in Carmel Bay as play was winding up in the afternoon, one touching down on the surface as a waterspout, but were no more than a visual curiosity. Veterans who have seen torrents of rain, hurricanes of wind, and even snow on the Monterey Peninsula for the Crosby/AT&T would be happy to have the opportunity to play in the kind of conditions that prevailed today.
At the end of the first day of the tournament two men stood at top of the leaderboard, pursued by a posse of contenders one and two shots back. Hunter Mahan, who contended for this title in 2011, losing by two strokes to D.A. Points, shares the top of the leaderboard with Scotsman Russell Knox, at 6-under. A half-dozen players are one back of the lead duo, at 5-under, with a further nine at 4-under.
Calling a golf tournament based on the first day’s rounds is difficult, and usually futile, but it is safe to say that Knox and Mahan can’t rest on their lead, not with names like Lee Westwood and Brandt “Comeback Kid” Snedeker on their heels. There are also a few players in the field with more than the usual motivation. Geoff Ogilvy, Brendon de Jonge, Fredrik Jacobson, and possibly Kevin Na, could move into the Top 64 in the Official World Golf Rankings with a strong finish this week, securing a place in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championships at Dove Mountain, Arizona Feb. 20 - 24.
Local golfers have mixed results in opening round
Three players with Bay Area or Northern California connections are in the field at the AT&T this week: 22-year-old PGA Tour rookie Derek Ernst, of Fresno; 31-year-old James Hahn, also in his first year of PGA Tour membership; and PGA Professional Mitch Lowe, a member of the teaching staff at Stanford University Golf Course.
Hahn, who is making a name for himself with a solid 4-out of-4 record in cuts made so far this season, not to mention a T-4 finish at the Humana Challenge three weeks ago, had a pretty solid round going today at Pebble Beach, until his second-to-last hole, the dramatic par-4 eighth (James started on the back nine this morning).
Three-under on the strength of a solid second nine, and fresh off of a birdie on the par-3 seventh hole, James was in solid position in the left fairway after a 224-yard drive. His approach shot to the eighth green, a carry across a cove which has been called “the greatest second shot in golf”, fell short, knocked down by an offshore breeze that wasn’t evident at ground level. Dropping short of the seaward bunker right of the green, his ball was lost in the high grass on the precipitous slope above the cove.
After returning to the spot of his previous shot, James lofted his fourth 180 yards to the back-right lobe of the green, leaving himself a testing downhill 29-footer for bogey. The bogey putt slid past the hole on the low side, heart-breakingly close to dropping, and Hahn had to settle for rolling in the 3-foot comebacker for a double-bogey, closing out his day at 1-under after a par at the ninth hole.
Class A PGA Professional Mitch Lowe got off to a rough start this morning, also at Pebble Beach. Starting on the 10th hole, the closing salvo of the tough trio of seaward holes which sportswriter Dan Jenkins has dubbed “Abalone Corner”, Mitch saw his drive carry right on the offshore breeze to be lost in the high grass in the “native area” of the cliffs below the tenth fairway. Lying two after a penalty stroke and a drop into a playable area, his approach fetched up in the rough short and right of the green, leaving twenty-one yards to the hole. With a delicate pitch needed to get the ball onto the green but still below the hole for a higher-percentage putt, Lowe’s clubhead snagged in the tangled rough at the edge of the cliff. The snag caused his fourth shot to be stubbed short, landing in the short grass in front of the green but making only a yard of progress. Chipping on to 12 feet above the flag, on a hole where strong men quail at the prospect of a downhill putt, his first putt slid by the hole, just fractions of an inch from dropping, and he walked off the green with a seven – a tough start in anyone’s book.
Strong one-putt birdies on the thirteenth and fifteenth holes nibbled away at the deficit Lowe had incurred at the tenth, but were offset by bogeys at eleven and eighteen. Mitch carded another impressive birdie on the front side with a handily-made up-and-down from the left greenside bunker – but it was, again, offset by a bogey on the first hole. Bogeys on the par-5 sixth hole and number eight (the opening hole of “Abalone Corner”) – both on narrowly-missed putts – closed out the round with a 5-over 77. Lowe and his amateur partner, NCGA President Dan Hansford, of Pleasanton, are 4-under as a team. Lowe/Hansford will play their second round on Friday on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
Derek Ernst, of Fresno, the 22-year-old rookie who Monday-qualified for last fall’s Frys.com Open and collected his first PGA Tour paycheck there, opened his week at the AT&T Pro-Am at the tight, tricky Spyglass Hill course. The recent UNLV grad opened his round with a birdie at the par-4 tenth hole, but saw that bird and two more, scored at the second and seventh holes, negated by bogeys at the fourteenth, first, and third holes – leaving a double-bogey at the par-3 fifth to be the deciding factor in his 2-over 74. Ernst will play at Pebble in the second round.
Second-round weather expected to be unsettled
The storm which was expected to plague the first day of play at the AT&T Pro-Am may just be a little late to the party. Light rain and chill, unsettled air behind the low-pressure front which is moving through the area overnight is expected to bring intermittent showers and lower temperatures to the region tomorrow. Players and spectators should expect to bundle up.