Published November 20, 2014
Charlie Wi is pleasant by nature, so he was not likely to be insulted when someone asked him if it felt like an out-of-body experience to see his name atop the leaderboard through two rounds of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
He escaped most of the rain Friday at Pebble Beach, holed out a wedge for eagle from the 13th fairway and escaped with bogey on his final hole for a 3-under 69 that gave him a three-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.
"It's my seventh year on the PGA Tour," Wi said. "I'm doing something good to be here for that long."
The leaderboard was filled with possibilities going into Saturday, when everyone completes the three-course rotation, and it was easy to overlook the guy at the top — especially because Wi has never won on tour.
Johnson is a two-time Pebble Beach champion in the last three years, and a rare lapse in his short game forced him to settle for a 72 at Spyglass Hill. Another shot behind were a pair of multiple major champions, Vijay Singh and Padraig Harrington. Right behind was Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner at Pebble, a four-time major champion.
And still in the mix: Tiger Woods.
Woods took 33 putts at Monterey Peninsula and had to settle for a 68, leaving him six shots behind.
"I've going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow," Woods said.
Wi and Woods have a history, even if Woods might not remember. They played junior golf together in Southern California in the 1980s, and one tournament stands out for Wi.
"I knew he was a fierce competitor, even when we were younger," Wi said. "I remember playing with him when I was 13 and he was 9, and we were playing together. There's a golf course in Long Beach called El Dorado. The ninth hole is a really long par 3. I didn't know what he did with his tee shot, but I remember he had 70 yards left, and he lipped it out and got so mad.
"I said, 'What's wrong?' I thought it was a great shot," Wi said. "He said, 'I was trying to hole that.' I said, 'Oh, come on.' And that always stuck with me — 9 years old at El Dorado."
Did he beat Woods that day?
"He was 9," Wi said with mock indignation. "Yes. I was outdriving him back then."
Woods went on to six consecutive USGA titles, 14 majors, 83 wins worldwide, No. 1 in the world longer than anyone. Wi wound up at Cal and then traveled the world — Asia, Europe, anywhere he could find to play. He's on the slow road, but happy with the progress.
He has made over $1 million his last five seasons on the PGA Tour, enough to comfortably keep his card, but not enough to attract much attention except for about five years ago when people jokingly made reference to Michelle Wie.
Wi turned 40 at the start of the year, and he found a certain peace about his game, and about his future. He always knew he was good enough to play on the PGA Tour, but the doubts began to creep in whenever he came close to winning.
He feels he turned the corner at Colonial last year, when he had a one-shot lead going into the final round and lost by one shot on the final hole to David Toms.
"It was the first time where I had the lead Saturday night. I really enjoyed that," Wi said. "I wrote down in my notebook, 'Being in the lead is fun.' I think I started embracing it instead of being scared."
Looking to the back of the room at a local television reporter, he added, "I know you asked me, 'Is it an out-of-body experience?' No. I've been there, and it's better than being 30th, that's for sure."
The question is where he goes from there.
Wi was at 12-under 130 and headed for Spyglass Hill, which has played slightly tougher than the other two courses. Harrington, whose 66 was the low score Friday, and Singh also go to Spyglass.
The main event, typical for Saturday of this event, is at Pebble Beach.
That's where the celebrities will be, and CBS Sports is likely to spend most of its TV time on the actors and comedians. In their midst will be Mickelson and Woods, though on opposite sides of the course.
Mickelson, in the best of the sunshine Friday, stumbled his way around the Monterey Peninsula. The clouds moved in, a mist turned into a light rain, and Lefty came to life with five birdies for a 65.
"I don't know what happened, but I started to play a lot better and make some birdies," said Mickelson, a three-time winner at Pebble. "In the perfect conditions, I struggled. But to play these golf courses in such great condition either way has been a lot of fun."
He was at 7-under 135, primed to change his West Coast Swing fortunes.
Woods handled the weather fine. He just couldn't handle the greens. Woods started to make a surge with back-to-back birdies early in his round — one of them a two-putt from 8 feet — but he lost momentum by missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth, and by pulling his approach into the gallery on the par-5 10th, leaving himself a tough up-and-down. He settled for par.
"It's very close," said Woods, playing this event for the first time in 10 years. "I got my ball-striking to where I feel very comfortable hitting the shots. I just need to make a couple of putts to get on a roll."
Pebble Beach is where Woods usually plays his best. He had a 63-64 weekend in 1997, when he finished one shot behind Mark O'Meara. Woods also had a 64 in the final round of 2000 to rally from five shots behind.
He has three rounds of 64 or better on the fabled course during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"I'm hitting good putts," Woods said. "I'm not displeased with my putting at all. I just didn't hit the ball in the right spots to give myself the right looks. If we were putting smooth greens, it would be a totally different deal."