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8:37PM

Ted Potter beats Dustin — and everyone else at the AT&T

By Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Ted Potter is what happens to golf. Which is the great thing about the game. Or, if you’re hoping for a winner who is famous, even familiar, conversely one of the problems.

It doesn’t matter if Potter isn’t one of those handsome young guys like Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson. Or one of those famous older guys like Phil Mickelson. He beat everyone, including Spieth, Johnson and Mickelson, to take the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Well, in a way it does matter, because golf, a sport without team loyalty as is tennis, needs instantly recognizable champions, so that those peripherally interested in the game won’t look up and ask, “Who’s he?”

Potter is a portly 34-year-old with thinning hair. You won’t be seeing him in any commercials. But after his three-shot victory Sunday, worth virtually $1.3 million, you will be seeing him high on the money list and, no less significantly, in the field of the Masters in three months.

You’d have thought Johnson, the world's No. 1, a two-time AT&T winner, would be the champion. He began the last round at Pebble Beach tied with Potter at 14 under par, and after two holes he had a one-shot lead.

But Dustin was the one who was stagnant, with a total of four bogies and four birdies, for a 72, while Potter, after a bogey on the first hole, made four birdies and no bogies over the next 17 holes for a 69.

That gave him a 72-hole total of 17-under 270. (Pebble and Spyglass Hill are par 72; the third course in the rotation, where Potter shot 62 Saturday, is Monterey Peninsula, par 71).

Tied for second at 273 were the 47-year-old Mickelson, who shot 67; Chez Reavie, 68; Day, 70, and Johnson. 

Potter, who turned pro out of high school in Florida, probably needed the victory more than Dustin and Phil, or Spieth and Day, major winners all. Nearly four years ago, in July 2014, after missing the cut in the Canadian Open, Potter, flip-flops on his feet, slipped off a curb near his Montreal hotel and broke his right ankle.

He was off the Tour for three years. Even at the AT&T, he entered as a Web.com Tour member and was unsure of getting into the coming week’s Genesis Open at Riviera in Southern California. But now he’s fully exempt, if still not fully known — by the public or some of his fellow competitors.

“There’s a lot of new guys I haven’t met in the last couple of years,” he conceded. ”It’s still an individual game.”

A game in which Potter, who six years ago won his only other Tour event, the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, struggled after his injury, at one point missing 24 cuts in a row. But fellow pro Russell Knox has said Potter is the most talented player he’s ever battled.

Talented, yes, but as Potter admits, a trifle lackadaisical. “I’ve never been a hard worker, I guess,” he said. “I mean, I’m probably better than I think I am.”

He and Johnson were in the final group Sunday, and even if it wasn’t match play there was a feeling of head-to-head. “I had a great day today,” Potter agreed. “Dustin wasn’t, I guess, on his game.”

Johnson said as much. He thought he was prepared, but shots just flew over Pebble’s small greens. They also did for Potter, but on the short par-3 7th, the signature hole, he chipped in for a birdie. “That was one of those moments,” said Potter, who hadn’t had many of late.

Mickelson, a four-time AT&T winner, made a strong run, an indication that although he doesn’t have a victory since the 2015 British Open, Phil might break through again.

“I’ve played similarly all four weeks,” Mickelson said of his rounds this year. “I’ve had much better results the last two weeks (he tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open). I’m going to try and take the momentum and carry it to Riviera.”

As is Ted Potter, a Mr. Nobody who now very much is somebody.

6:34PM

Is Dustin a lock to win the AT&T? Unpredictable

By Art Spander

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — So there’s Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, tied for first three rounds into the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which he’s already won twice.

Meaning? Absolutely nothing, and then again a great deal.

The guy sharing first place with Johnson is Ted Potter Jr. That’s Ted Potter, not Harry, and you’d probably think Dustin is a lock to win. But if there’s anything more unpredictable than golf it hasn’t been invented yet, although maybe the weather is a distant second.

Who would have thought that Potter, 34, a one-time winner on Tour, would go out Saturday and shoot a nine-under-par 62 at Monterey Peninsula, where Friday Johnson shot a 64? So MPCC isn’t Augusta National, or even Pebble Beach, where Saturday Johnson had a two-under 70, It still has 18 holes and can be tricky.

As three-time major champion Rory McIlroy knows all too well. He shot a 74 there Friday, which is the reason he missed the cut. Would you have imagined that Rory would be 13 shots worse than Potter on a relatively easy course — keyword, relatively?

Johnson and Potter both were at 14-under-par for 54 holes, a round on each of the courses used for the first three days of the tournament, Pebble, Monterey and Spyglass Hill. Everyone who made the cut, low 60 and ties for the pros, low 25 for the amateurs, plays Pebble for Sunday’s final round.

Making the cut was four-time AT&T champion Phil Mickelson, who at Pebble had a three-putt par on the par-five sixth and a three-putt bogey on 18. His even-par 72 left him five shots back at 206. Missing the cut by three shots at 211 was Gary Woodland, who seven days earlier won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Did I mention golf was unpredictable?

Or that Potter, who started at 10, bogied his last two holes — after making birdies on his first four (10 through 13) and six of his first seven? Or that Potter is a righthander who plays lefthanded, as is Mickelson? Or that while conditions still were pleasant enough, people and dogs packing the beach at Pebble, a cool breeze arrived for the first time in days?

“The wind out there on the point made the last three holes pretty tough,” said Potter. “But it was a great round today. I’ll go out (Sunday) and feel good about my game. As long as I can keep the nerves under control, I’ll be fine.”

Johnson figured out to do that a couple of years ago. He became infamous for falling apart in the final round of the 2010 U.S, Open at Pebble and missing a playoff by a shot in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Then he turned into a terror, winning event after event, including the 2016 U.S. Open.

“I was playing solid,” Johnson said of his third round. "I feel like it’s in really good form going into (Sunday). I’m going to be in good position, but I’m going to have to go out and play really well if I want a chance to win.”

He has a chance, an excellent one. So does Potter. So do Jason Day and Troy Merritt, tied for third at 203.

Asked if the vibe changes for the final round of any tournament, Johnson said, “Yeah, it does for sure. Sunday you start focusing a little bit more. Probably should have focused more today. But yeah, on Sunday, we’re trying to win the golf tournament.”

Isn’t that the whole idea any day?

 

9:20AM

The Athletic: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am endures as a singular celebration of golf

By Art Spander
The Athletic

PEBBLE BEACH — You start with arguably one of the game’s three most impressive datelines — St. Andrews and Augusta are the other two — add decades of history, laughs and people named Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and are blessed with an event that’s as much a treasure as it is a tournament.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a mid-winter celebration of sport and, yes, entertainment, when amateurs — some with big names, some with big games — pair up with champions on three courses that are as beautiful as they are testing: Pebble, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula Country Club.

Read the full story here.

 

©2018 The Athletic Media Company. All rights reserved.

 

6:55AM

Los Angeles Times: Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy both thinking of April, but differently

By Art Spander
Los Angeles Times

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It may be August, but after the final round in the PGA Championship both Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy were more intent on April. For Johnson last April, for McIlroy next April.

Johnson had his best round of the week on Sunday at Quail Hollow, a four-under-par 67, that brought him to even-par 284 for the tournament. That’s encouraging with the FedEx Cup Playoffs about to start, but discouraging when Johnson, No.1 in the world rankings, thinks of what might have been.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2017, Los Angeles Times

4:16PM

Spieth takes another quad at Augusta

By Art Spander

AUGUSTA, Ga. — So Jordan Spieth took seven more shots at the 15th than Gene Sarazen. Let’s not pick on the poor guy. He’s got enough troubles with those water holes at the Masters.

Young Mr. Spieth unquestionably is one of golf’s premier players. In 2015 he won the Masters and U.S. Open, in the last 70 years a double accomplished only by a couple of guys named Arnie and Jack.

Spieth even had his own bobblehead doll, which is not to be confused with a bobble or, as the pros like to say, a hiccup. Less painful to say than “quadruple bogey.”

Which is what Spieth had Thursday on the 15th hole in the opening round of the 2017 Masters. And, as you remember and Spieth chooses to forget, what he had in the final round in 2016 at the 12th hole.

A year ago at 12, a hole that some say is the toughest par-3 in the game, give or take an island green or two, Spieth, seemingly headed for a second straight Masters win, hit consecutive shots into Rae’s Creek and — yikes — took a four-over-par seven.

All summer and winter, Spieth was asked what the heck happened and if the memory would haunt him this spring. No, he said over and over. That’s in the past. It may be in our heads but not in his.

On a dangerously windy afternoon, Spieth had no problem on his return to 12. But he had a huge problem with 15, described in a spectator guide as “a reachable par-5 when the winds are favorable.” The winds weren’t favorable Thursday, nor was the manner in which Spieth played the hole.

We pause. At the second Masters in 1935, Sarazen took a 4 wood, then called a spoon, for his second shot at 15 and from 235 yards away knocked the ball in the cup for a double-eagle or, as it is known in Britain, an albatross.

“The shot heard ‘round the world,” it was named, a line first used about patriots at Concord Bridge in the American revolution and subsequently repeated for Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning home for the New York Giants in the 1951 playoff.

What Sarazen’s shot did was make the Masters a major story about a tournament not yet a major and help get him into a 36-hole playoff against Craig Wood, which Sarazen won.

So much for history. What Spieth’s shot, his third Thursday at 15 since he was forced to lay up, did was spin back into the evil pond that waits menacingly between a sloping fairway and the green. Splash. He dropped a new ball and hit that one long.

“I obviously wasn’t going to hit in the water again,” said Spieth. “So it went over, and from there it’s very difficult.” Four more shots difficult. When the ball plopped into the hole, Spieth — oops — had a four-over-par nine.

But ain’t golf bizarre? Spieth followed with a birdie on the difficult par-3 16th — sure, 9-2 on consecutive holes — and finished at 3-over 75. That didn’t seem too bad until Charley Hoffman, out of nowhere, shot a 7-under-par 65, leaving Spieth 10 behind.

The good news is he has 54 holes to play. The bad news is two of those holes are the 12th and 15th.

A very unusual first day of the 81st Masters, the first since 1954 without Arnold Palmer on the grounds as either a normal contestant or honorary entrant.

Palmer died at 87 in September. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who along with Arnie formed golf’s Big Three of the 1960s, wept as they prepared to strike the traditional first balls following a memorial tribute from Masters Chairman Billy Payne.

A very unusual first day. Until first William McGirt finished and then Hoffman emphatically followed, there was a strong possibility this would be the first Masters in 59 years in which no one broke 70 in the opening round.

A very unusual first day. After warming up, Dustin Johnson, No. 1 in the world rankings, went to the first tee and then walked away, unable to take an unhindered, painless swing after a fall down a flight of stairs Wednesday.

"It sucks," Johnson said using the vernacular of the times. "I'm playing the best golf of my career. This is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. Then a freak accident happened (Wednesday) when I got back from the course. It sucks. It sucks really bad."

Jordan Spieth could say the same about the way he played 15.