Published February 09, 2012
| Associated Press
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Twenty months later, Dustin Johnson finally hit the drive he wanted at Pebble Beach. Ten years later, Tiger Woods must have wondered what kept him away from the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
On a spectacular day of scenery and scoring, Johnson blasted a tee shot on the third hole at Pebble Beach and then pitched in for eagle from 41 yards in front of the green. He added another eagle on his way to a 9-under 63 and a three-way tie atop the leaderboard Thursday.
Woods was five shots to par out of the lead, a solid start to his PGA Tour season. He had six birdies in a 4-under 68 at Spyglass Hill, the fourth-best score on that course. Spyglass was hardest of the three courses, though not by much. The weather was so pure that all three courses played about one shot under par.
Charlie Wi was over at Monterey Peninsula and had a shot at 59 without ever knowing it. Wi was 8 under after a tap-in birdie on the 13th hole, and needed only three birdies in the last five holes. Trouble is, he had no idea the Shore Course was a 70. He made one more birdie and had a 9-under 61.
"I was looking at the scorecard like, 'What's the par here?' I did not know it was a par 70," Wi said. "That 59 never crossed my mind. Not once."
Joining them was former U.S. Amateur Danny Lee, who holed a bunker shot for eagle at No. 2 and holed out from the 11th fairway with a wedge for another eagle to match Johnson at 9-under 63.
Johnson is turning into his generation's "Prince of Pebble." He won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in consecutive years, and then had a three-shot lead at Pebble in the U.S. Open two years ago until he shot 82 in the final round. On the third hole of that round, he hit driver left into the bushes for a lost ball and made double bogey.
On Thursday, he smashed a driver nearly 340 yards over the trees to just short of the green, setting up eagle. Even now, he still thinks about that tee shot in the U.S. Open. Walking off the tee, he said to caddie Bobby Brown, "I could have used that in the U.S. Open."
"Walking off that hole, I told Bob, 'This hole owes me a few more than just that one.'"
Johnson overpowered the par 5s at Pebble Beach, the secret to playing that course well. He had a 6-iron for his second shot at the par-5 second for an easy birdie, holed a 65-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole, got up and down from the bunker just short of the 14th for birdie, then cringed when his 40-foot eagle attempt on the 18th just turned away.
"I thought it was going in," Johnson said. "I was laughing. I made plenty of putts today."
Woods made his share, too.
He opened with consecutive birdies, stuffing his approach on No. 10 and two-putting for birdie on the par-5 11th. He also holed a downhill, 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th that was good enough to elicit a small fist pump, and from behind the par-5 opening hole, hit a flop shot to 7 feet and made that.
One of his two bogeys was sloppy. It came on the short par-4 fourth, with a shallow green set among sand dunes and ice plant at a diagonal angle. Instead of going toward the middle of the green and letting the slope take the ball to the hole, Woods went at the flag. The ball bounced hard over the green and into a sandy patch of dunes, in a foot print.
He did well to blast a wedge some 30 feet past the hole and had a good two-putt from there for bogey. Woods picked up another birdie on the par-5 seventh for his 68. He played the par 5s in a 3 under.
"I don't know if it's a good sign or a bad sign," Woods said about his 68. "With the scores the way they are, I thought I could have it lower than I did. The guys are just tearing this place apart with no wind. I'm not too far away from posting a good number out here."
His partner, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, contributed pars on the holes where Woods made bogey, and Romo had a birdie on the par-5 14th when Woods missed the fairway and had to settle for par. As a team, they were tied for 25th.
Romo gets to play a forward tee, but he doesn't get any shots with a scratch handicap.
Phil Mickelson always entertains at No. 4 at Spyglass, a tee shot that gives him so much stress each year. He is determined to hit driver, and did again Thursday, this time relieved to at least be able to find it. And while he missed a 7-foot birdie putt after a splendid flop out of deep rough that ran 100 feet across the green, Mickelson was glad the hole was behind him.
As for his 2-under 70?
"The greens were perfect," Mickelson said. "They rolled so good, and that's why it was disappointing to let some of those go. I've been putting really well lately, and I expected to make some of those. Shot a couple under par, but it could have been a lot better."
Johnson's lone mistake came from a poor tee shot on the par-3 12th into a bunker. His start was tough to beat, though. With a 4-foot birdie putt on the fourth, he made it through six holes in 6 under, and then played solidly from there.
"I've been working really hard the last three days on the putter and the driver, and it paid off," Johnson said. "I'm starting to roll the ball like I usually do."
The conditions were so good that more than half the field broke par no matter where they were playing.