We have a very exciting day in store for us on Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Interestingly, Charlie Wi has led the tournament all three days beginning with a 61 at Monterey Peninsula on Thursday. He followed that with a 69 on Pebble and another 69 Saturday on Spyglass Hill. I wrote a post about Wi for Saturday and how he has gone through the transformation process.
He now knows that he’s a good player, he has stopped tinkering with his swing when he plays and he is now infused with “self belief.” And so far, he’s played as if he’s completely unperturbed about where he finds himself. In fact, after having the 54-hole lead at Colonial, looking back, he realized that it was fun to play from the lead. And he was very convincing that he was going to do it again. Of course, the realm of good ideas and intentions collides with reality on the ground on Sunday, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep his self-concept intact.
As interesting to me is the fact that I asked Ken Duke for an interview in Phoenix and he was gracious enough to give me five minutes. He got into Phoenix as an alternate and I was curious about him fitting into the tee time that his benefactor, Fred Couples, opened up for him. He spoke at some length about how he was very comfortable on the golf course now and it didn’t really matter to him who he played with. And he played like it. And now here he is the following week playing in the last group just three strokes behind Wi.
After shooting a course record 28 on the back nine at Pebble the first day, he managed a 1-over round on Spyglass which included three bogeys in a row. But at Monterey Peninsula on Saturday in sketchy conditions, he managed a clean-card, 5-under 65. He got to hide out a little bit over there because nobody takes his chances seriously except him and the five friends who showed up to follow him. It will be interesting to see how well he’ll simmer in Sunday’s cauldron; he’ll be playing right behind Tiger and Phil.
Tiger is one behind Duke and four behind Wi. He had a very nice round today shooting 5-under on Pebble with just one bogey. Conditions weren’t great, so it was yet another stellar performance. The problem for Wi and Duke is that Tiger is really invested in his work with his swing coach, Sean Foley.
In his post-round interview he spoke about how much more he understands what Foley is trying to teach him. He talked about how much tighter the dispersion pattern is off the club. “My start lines are much tighter now,” he claims. And he also says that the ball doesn’t move as much, meaning that he can hit it substantially straight with just a little fade or draw without the ball getting away from him. It must be nice. If this keeps up, a whole bunch of people are going to be asking for Foley’s cell number.
I mention Phil for no other reason than he and Tiger will be paired together on Sunday and it will be interesting as always to watch the interplay, if any, between them. He is fully six shots behind Wi. While he did go low at Monterey Peninsula with a 5-under on Friday, he’s barely moved the needle at Pebble or Spyglass with two 2-under rounds.
But with Phil, it’s also true that he is fiercely competitive and he has the magic to go really low on any given round. Although he has come into this year full of confidence and satisfaction with all his pre-season play and practice, that hasn’t been born out by his play. He has seemed very rusty and hit a lot of loose shots. He was T49 in Palm Springs, missed the cut in La Jolla and T26 in Phoenix last week. Not what we normally expect from him.
So the question is, “What will Phil do next?” Will he continue to hone in of the kind of exceptional play that we all love him for? Or will he continue the process of trying to get rid of the cobwebs on his game? One thing we know for sure is that he is more than capable of going very low, so mentioning him here is not a pipe dream.
And while we’re at it, there are three other guys at 9-under who have the playing chops to go really low: Kevin Na, Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan. Honorable mention has to go to Brendon Todd, also at 9-under, for no other reasons than he managed to play well enough to get himself there and he was the medalist in last year’s Q-School. That is quite an accomplishment.
So while Wi and Duke may not be marquee names on the Tour, their backstories, together with Tiger and Phil being right in front of them, makes this a very satisifying leaderboard.
It’s why I love the PGA Tour.
The Golf Channel, 1:00 – 2:30 (ET) and CBS, 3:00 – 6:30.