The big news in the world of movies right now is the upcoming release of Disney’s live-action version of Beauty and the Beast on March 17th, but the PGA Tour and Pebble Beach beat Disney to the punch by over a month with a week of beauty-and-the-beast weather for the AT&T Pro-Am.
It was a week of all kinds of weather at Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this year, from beastly –windy and cold with torrential rains – early in the week to a beauty of a weekend featuring the kind of sunshine-and-blue-skies conditions that warms the hearts of realtors, the local Chamber of Commerce, and television golf producers.
As usual at this tournament, where the cut comes after three days on different courses (one a par-71) with different conditions, no clear picture emerged until the end of play on Saturday, and when that picture emerged, Jordan Spieth was the man in the frame.
Taking advantage of calm, clear conditions on the third day of play Jordan Spieth emerged as the man to beat, running away from the rest of the field with his second 65 in a row after opening the tournament with a 3-under 68 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. His eight-birdie round was spoiled only by a tough bogey on #8, the opening stanza of the “Cliffs of Doom” stretch of par-4s that concludes the ocean-side stretch of holes that runs from #4 to #10. Spieth finished the day at 17-under, carrying a six-stroke lead, and the momentum of a pair of birdies on list final two holes, into Sunday’s final round.
Spieth came out of the blocks playing flat, carding one birdie early – on the short par-5 2nd hole – before getting locked in to a string of pars. In the meantime, Snedeker and an even less-likely challenger, 2011 U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, were making birdies.
Kraft had five birdies, three pars, and a bogey on the front nine to go out in 32, and another birdie on the under-appreciated 11th hole pulled him to within three shots of Spieth. Two-time former AT&T Pro-Am champ Snedeker also snuck a bit closer to Spieth with a 2-under front nine, turning at 13-under, five back of the young Texan.
Saturday’s back nine was where Spieth had made a charge, carrying momentum forward from a birdie at the tough par-4 ninth hole, making two more birdies immediately, at 10 and 11, and three more down the stretch, at 15, 17, and 18 – but a similar charge never materialized on Sunday. Luckily for Spieth, Kelly Kraft’s front-nine play didn’t carry forward to the later holes. Kraft pulled to within three strokes of Spieth after eleven holes, but couldn’t muster any more birdies over the last seven holes and so never put any real pressure on the eventual winner.
Spieth opened up a bit of breathing room with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th hole, though by that point in the tournament only a total meltdown on the 18th hole would have lost the day for him. Even with a flat round that opened par-birdie and closed birdie-par with fourteen pars in between, Spieth hung on for the win.
After Spieth and Kraft, a pair of two-time former champions – Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker – were third and fourth, with the trio of Gary Woodland, Jason Day, and Jon Rahm sharing fifth place. Four-time AT&T Pro-Am winner Phil Mickelson looked like an outside prospect to mount a challenge after 54 holes, but a dearth of birdies, and an imploding back nine 44, which included two bogies, a double, and – wait for it – a quadruple-bogey, dropped him an ear-popping 37 spots to solo 65th, otherwise known as DFL.