Tiger Not The Only Needle Mover At Pebble

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is the tournament where a one-liner becomes as important as a one-putt and no swing, not even one as enticing as Sam Snead’s, could ever be as beautiful as the view across Carmel Bay to Point Lobos.
It’s played right after the Super Bowl, when most of the country is ankle-deep in winter misery – and sometimes the AT&T courses on the Monterey Peninsula are ankle-deep in mud.
Ever since it was created as the Crosby by Bing himself back in the 1930s, the event was built upon celebrity amateurs willing to play a sport for which most of them were ill-suited but who rarely refused to poke fun at themselves or sign an autograph for others.
“I can’t wait to get out of these wet clothes,” cracked singer-comedian Phil Harris one particularly rainy Crosby, “and into a dry martini.”
The pro field might lack marquee names, and rounds, especially when the weather was nasty and a round of golf could take longer than a flight from New York to San Francisco. But there’s no business like show business, and from the days of Bing and Bob Hope to those of Bill Murray and George Lopez, the AT&T is very much show business: 35 percent golf, 65 percent guffaws.
If Tiger Woods was missing for 10 years, it’s not correct to say it didn’t matter, but truth tell it didn’t matter that much. Not with Murray tossing a dead fish he grabbed from a cooler near the 17th tee or Tom Brady marching up the sixth fairway.
The fans got their laughs and their beers, not thinking of whom they hadn’t seen but whom they had – and including that panorama from Pebble Beach’s fairways, what they had seen.
With its setting, its cast, its lunacy, its meteorology and its history, the AT&T may be is the only tournament on Tour that could do without Tiger, although with him, now that he is returning, it will do much better.
“We are different,” agreed Ollie Nutt, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the sponsoring organization. “Tiger last played in 2002, and in ’03, ’04 and ’05 attendance continued to grow. It’s demographics. Half the people come for the celebs and half for the pros. And it’s Pebble Beach.”
Which, along with Augusta National, is one of the two most-famous golfing venues in America. Nutt certainly is delighted Woods is making his return. “We welcome him back,” said Nutt. “And if he’s in contention, we might get a bump in the TV ratings. He makes a difference there.”
Especially on Sunday, when the AT&T – most of the Hollywood types and athletes having missed the cut for the final round – becomes simply a competition rather than a carnival.
Last year, Murray, the inimitable greenskeeper from “Caddyshack,” came home a champion, winning the pro-am section with D.A. Points, who won the pro tournament. Finally, a person of interest.
But that’s rare. What isn’t rare is for the Saturday crowd, out to see Kevin Costner or Tony Romo or Dan Marino, to outnumber the Sunday crowd.
Woods, who as we know went to school for a couple of years at Stanford, about 90 miles up the coast from Pebble, was a regular in the tournament his early years on Tour, teaming the first time, 1997 and again ’99 with Costner, causing near-chaos among the eager crowd. It was “Tin Cup” joining the top gun, a pairing for the ages.
In ’98 Tiger joined his father, Earl, but when the tournament was suspended by a downpour until August, neither of the Woods tandem felt compelled to appear.
Tiger already was getting his fill of shutter snaps from cameras supposedly not permitted and inclement weather. But he came back a few more times, partnered by onetime Stanford teammate Jerry Chang and in 2000 overcame a seven-shot deficit to win the pro division. A few months later, Woods returned to Pebble to win the U.S. Open by 12 shots.
The Woods mystique has diminished a bit after the accident of November 2009 and subsequent revelations of infidelity. The Woods fascination has not.
He remains the single most recognized golfer on the planet and in early October helped the Frys.Com Open, played some 45 minutes north of Pebble, draw sellout crowds and dozens of media. Where Tiger goes, others follow, in droves.
“We should be able to handle everything,” said Nutt, about the AT&T. “We have the security and shuttles. One good thing about his early commitment is that we can prepare to make adjustments if needed.”
The first three rounds of the AT&T are spread among three courses, Pebble, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula CC. They aren’t far apart, two or three miles at most, but the narrow roads in the Del Monte Forest are closed to traffic and spectators are forced to travel on buses. The place sometimes looks like Grand Central Station with pine cones.
It won’t be any worse with the addition of Woods. He knows the drill. So do the fans. The AT&T isn’t going to change, Tiger or no Tiger. But as Ollie Nutt says, glad to have him back.


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