Bill Murray, looking like a hundred bucks, was sauntering down
the fairway at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last Friday
when he was stopped by a female's voice. "Bill, you're better
looking than Kevin Costner," a woman yelled from behind the
gallery ropes. Murray angled his head upward in a thoughtful
pose. "You have a point," he answered after a suitable pause.
The AT&T made its own point last week. Washed away a year
ago--according to PGA Tour records, the 1996 AT&T never
happened--the tournament reestablished itself as one of the top
stops on the Tour. Sunday's dramatic finish along the cliffs at
Pebble Beach earned high marks for style. And when the day was
over, plenty of other points had been made as well.
For instance, we now know that Tiger Woods is beatable--
incredible but beatable--and that Mark O'Meara is not, at least
not at Pebble Beach, where he has won seven times. We also
learned that David Duval, who lost a three-shot lead and
finished second for a sixth time on Tour, is all too beatable.
There was more. Seven inches of rain destroyed the tournament in
'96, but this year the three courses on which the event is
played, Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Poppy Hills, survived 20
inches of pretournament rain, thanks to what might be a
tournament-record six straight days of sun. The lift, clean and
place rule was invoked throughout the week, but many officials
and players had expected far worse. Monday and Tuesday practice
rounds were canceled, and in a desperate attempt to dry out the
terrain, Clint Eastwood, with John Denver riding shotgun,
hovered over several of the greens in his helicopter.
The fans were as eager as Eastwood to get on with the show. Many
came out to see Woods and his amateur partner, Costner. Maybe
too many. The huge crowds clicked cameras during the players'
swings--the AT&T is one of a handful of Tour events at which
fans are allowed to bring cameras onto the course--and sometimes
refused to stand still and keep quiet. "Every time we heard a
roar from Spyglass, which is about five miles from Poppy Hills,
we'd say, 'Oh, Costner must've made another three-foot putt,'"
said Tom Lehman.
Woods was agitated by the amateur photographers, although
Costner at times found the situation amusing. While Woods was
lining up a five-foot putt on Thursday at Spyglass Hill,
Costner's unattended golf bag fell over with a thud. As Woods
stepped away from his ball, Costner said, "Wait. I'll go kill
that bag." That got a laugh, but not everyone was smiling
afterward. Steve Stricker, who was paired with Woods for the
first three rounds and missed the cut, was upset by all the
commotion. "It was so disappointing, I might never come back
here," he said.
But then, who would notice? By Sunday night people were talking
about only two things: Woods's slump--for the second week in a
row he hadn't won--and O'Meara's mastery of Pebble Beach.
"I was jacked," said O'Meara, who lives in the same community
outside Orlando as Woods. "Tiger's the hottest player in the
game. We play a lot of golf together. He says to me, 'I just
love competition. All I want to do is win. Wouldn't it be great
to go head-to-head sometime?' I say, 'You may blow it by me by
50 yards and have a better swing, but I'm going to figure out a
way to clip you.'"
O'Meara won this tournament with his consistency--four straight
67s, impressive even with lift, clean and place--local knowledge
and smart course management, but it was Woods who dominated the
weekend with a 63-64 finish. How good was he? Woods birdied 18
of the last 36 holes. If he had not started 70-72 (the 72 was
especially damaging because it came at Poppy Hills, a squirrelly
course with five par-5s that Woods should have devoured), he
would have added another chapter to the legend. Woods began the
third round in 67th place, and he was still seven shots behind
Duval when he started on Sunday. He wound up pushing O'Meara to
the limit by birdieing the final three holes. "I made a good run
for it," Woods said, "but it was too little too late."
He was being modest. Woods's play was better than a good run. He
stuffed it close for birdies at 16 and 17 and then stunned
everyone by becoming the only player last week to reach the
548-yard, par-5 18th in two. Woods said he didn't get all of his
drive, but his ball still carried well down the right side of
the fairway, leaving him 260 yards into the wind, to the green,
which is guarded by the Pacific on the left and a tall pine and
a bunker on the right. At that point Woods heard a roar at the
17th green. O'Meara had also birdied the hole and led by two
strokes. Knowing he needed eagle, Woods pulled his three-wood,
but first he had to find a good lie. His ball had stopped on the
edge of the fairway, but the grass there was sparse and damp.
Allowed to move within one club length, Woods chose to place his
ball in the rough, where it would sit up a bit.
So there you have it--260, ocean left, trouble right, into the
fan, everything on the line. Woods ripped into his ball, landing
it on the front of the green, 35 feet from the hole. Woods knew
the shot was good as soon as he hit it. He walked after it, eyes
wide as he followed the ball's descent. "That's a long way, a
long way," said Jim Furyk, who was playing with O'Meara in the
group behind Woods and finished fourth. "I don't think reaching
that green in two even entered anyone else's mind this week."
This time, though, destiny missed its cue. Woods ran his eagle
putt four feet past the hole. "I was surprised when that putt
didn't go in," said O'Meara, who needed only a par at 18 to win
by a stroke over Woods and, as it turned out, Duval, who birdied
the final two holes.
The victory was O'Meara's 13th on Tour and his most memorable at
Pebble Beach, which is saying something since he has won there
so often, dating back to 1979, when he took the California State
Amateur. In 1984 O'Meara won the team competition of the Bing
Crosby National Pro-Am with Jack Diesel, and he now has won the
individual championship on five occasions. Before Sunday his
favorite victories had come in 1985 (the last Crosby), 1990 (his
father, Bob, was his partner) and 1992 (he was paired with Bob
Allen, the chairman of AT&T). The latest triumph tops the list
because in addition to the dramatics, it enabled him to join
Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Sam
Snead as the only players to have won the same Tour event five
Sunday's win also confirmed that O'Meara's play last year, when
he led the Tour in greens hit in regulation and was third in
scoring and fifth in money earned while winning twice, was no
aberration. Although he turned 40 a few weeks ago--his wife
surprised him with a dinner party and a Porsche that should be
delivered this week--O'Meara is looking forward to a big season
and playing in the Ryder Cup. O'Meara and Woods have talked
about the possibility of teaming up this September at
Valderrama. O'Meara doesn't even seem overly concerned about the
one thing missing from his resume. "Maybe that little area in
the major championships has slipped by," he said, acknowledging
that he has never won a Grand Slam event, "but when I've had a
chance to win on Tour, I've gotten the job done. I played to
about 75 percent of my ball-striking abilities this week. I used
strategy, like somebody playing chess."
In the end Duval, who had also finished second in this event in
1995, was left picking up the pieces. "I'm going to win this
tournament before I'm done, I promise you," he said. This time
Duval held a three-shot edge over O'Meara and Furyk going into
the final round, but O'Meara had passed him by the 7th hole.
That was quite a turnaround from Saturday, when Duval eagled
both par-5 holes on the front nine en route to a 28.
Duval hit his second shot at the par-5 2nd hole through a big
tree. His ball continued on to the green and lipped out of the
hole, stopping inches away. At the 6th, Duval made a six-foot
putt for eagle. When he birdied the 7th, he was eight under for
the day. "Steve Stricker and I saw eight under after nine holes
on the board and thought that must be a team score," Woods said.
"We were shaking our heads." Duval missed four birdie putts
inside 12 feet on the back, but at the 17th nearly holed his
seven-iron tee shot. He wound up shooting 62, which tied Tom
Kite's 1983 course record. On Sunday, though, Duval never had a
handle on his iron play and struggled all day, scrambling for
pars on eight holes. "I beat myself," he said. "Actually, I feel
pretty decent about this. I didn't have my A game--it was
probably C-plus at best--but I stuck in there and still had a
chance going to the last hole."
Although not a very good one. Considering what he has done so
far in his brief pro career, would anyone bet against Woods
making that final putt? And a wise man certainly had to like
O'Meara's chances of making par to secure another win at his
When you're up against odds like that, what's the point?
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK This chip-in for a birdie at the 16th hole kept O'Meara one step ahead of the hard-charging Woods. [Crowd watching Mark O'Meara putt]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Woods rolled on the weekend despite the distractions that came from playing with Costner (below). [Tiger Woods putting]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK [See caption above--Kevin Costner golfing]
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Duval, who seems stuck in second, shot a record-tying 62 on Saturday but again stumbled on Sunday. [David Duval golfing]