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As a longtime observer of the golfing scene, I would like to
take the contrarian position that the 18th hole at Pebble Beach,
that much-heralded, oft-photographed par-5, is vastly overrated.
Last week, as it does every year during the AT&T, television
treated us to breathtaking aerial views of the 18th's manicured
548 yards and its handsome surroundings, Carmel Bay to the left,
the Lodge to the right and those lonesome Monterey pines in the
middle of the fairway about 220 yards off the tee.

My quarrel with Number 18 is that nothing exciting ever happens
there, certainly nothing to match the annual triumphs and
disasters that occur at Augusta's back-nine par-5s, the 13th and
the 15th. I have been observing Crosbys, AT&Ts and U.S. Opens at
Pebble for nearly 30 years, and the only truly remarkable thing
I can recall happening on 18 occurred in 1984 when Hale Irwin's
drive landed on the rocks of Carmel Bay and caromed some 20
yards up onto the fairway. From there Irwin went on to make a
one-putt birdie and eventually win the Crosby in a playoff.

A recent made-for-TV match between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson
illustrates my point. The old rivals arrived at 18 with Nicklaus
a stroke ahead. The situation begged for drama: Watson reaching
the green with two heroic shots, Nicklaus forced to counter,
even if it meant courting disaster. Instead, both players played
conservative three-wood shots off the tee, four-irons from the
fairway and wedges to the green. Each took two putts, and
Nicklaus had won.

So what to do about it? One suggestion: Move the tee perhaps 20
yards forward and, if possible, a bit toward the water, even if
it means tampering with Mother Nature. Make it so that a gambler
who dares to carry his drive 260 yards over Carmel Bay can reach
the green in two. A player two strokes back would have a shot at
eagle. If someone one stroke behind cut the corner, the leader
might feel compelled to match him.

It seemed only proper to test my supposition. Mark O'Meara, who
has won the AT&T a record four times, heard me out with a
bemused look. "You're crazy," he said. "First of all, it's
aesthetically pleasing." Granted. "It's a true three-shot par-5,
and it presents challenges--the ocean off the tee, out of bounds
on the right. And it can be reached in two. Tom Kite did it in
the third round when he won the Open." Have you ever reached it
in two? "No."

Lee Janzen cut me off at the word overrated. "You're wrong," he
said. "It's a risk-reward hole." Risk-reward? "If you cut off
enough ocean, you can get there in two." You ever do it? "Once,"
he said.

Shaken, I sought out the man whose feelings about Pebble Beach,
his favorite course, carry more weight than anyone
else's--Nicklaus. "I couldn't agree with you more," he said. "Put
the hole on Spyglass and it would be ordinary. Lots of negatives
happen there and few positives. Moving the tee forward
wouldn't work because there's no land to put it on. However, you
could move the green closer and eliminate the bunker."

But to soften the blow, he added, "When you rate the 18th, you
must consider its historical importance, its natural beauty and
the fact that it is the final hole of a great course."

O.K., Jack. I'll buy that. But I would still like to see
something exciting happen there.

--Walter Bingham

COLOR PHOTO: DOST & EVANS [Aerial view of 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Course]