Why the contenders will find themselves chasing a Canadian in ’08.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Even on the heels of a Super Tuesday, immigration hasn’t been the hottest of topics in the Pebble clubhouse. That’ll change when a 155-pound Canadian makes off with the $1,080,000 first prize (that’s U.S. currency), making him just the third international player to abscond with the Waterford trophy after Vijay Singh in 2004 and Brett Ogle in 1993.
Skeptical tour fans will point out that Mike Weir wasn’t exactly pro golf’s answer to NBA star Steve Nash last season, with just four top-10 finishes. But The Other Lefty will pull it off, courtesy of a patient game perfect for repelling distractions, a newly rebuilt swing, and an abiding affection for Pebble Beach.
“He plays well in weather,” says longtime Poppy Hills GM Tyler Jones, adding that Weir’s same focus will waterproof him against the splashy antics of the comedians and crowds.
Meanwhile, the ’07 blip was a byproduct of intensive work on a new swing. After waiting seven months to pick up his first top 10 last year, Weir finished the year with a star turn at the Presidents Cup and a win at Fry’s Electronics Open, and already has grabbed a top 10 a month into ‘08. “Ball-striking wise,” he told the Winnipeg Sun last week, “I’m feeling a lot better.”
Most importantly, the one-time world number three loves it out here. He has six top-10 finishes at Pebble in 10 starts, and finished in the top five each year from 2003-06. In fact, he’s the only one of the top-five career money leaders at the Pro-Am who hasn’t won it. That changes this year. Below, who he’ll have to hold off:
When it comes to the AT&T, the dude knows what he’s doing, beyond requesting a foursome outside of the “A group” to avoid the circus atmosphere conjured by its celebrities and fawning fans.
He tops the career money charts here with $3 million plus. He owns Spyglass. He posted three rounds 67 or lower last year and his 20-under total tied the best score ever. His three Pro-Am titles rank second behind only Mark O’Meara and he played great last week in Scottsdale. Phil has to be a favorite.
The Force of Nature from Fiji comes in carding above 70, but, as Jones points out, “always plays well here.”
“I’d put him in my top three for sure,” he says. “His familiarity with the courses, his talent, he plays well in weather.”
The kid who played varsity as a third grader stared down AT&T upperclassman Mickelson to take the FDR Open in a playoff last week. Look for Holmes, who has never finished out of the top three in driving distance, to blast his way into contention.
The Texas product comes in jalapeño hot, having placed in the top 10 in each of the season’s first three events. “He’s too good to count as a dark horse,” says Hilary Howard, editor of the Northern California Golf Association’s Golf magazine, “but he’s playing really well.”
“He’s got a good comfort zone at Pebble,” Howard says. Like Weir, she adds, “He’s so steady and patient during the longer AT&T rounds and the weather changes.” Howard and Jones like Jim Furyk for similar reasons. “He’s such a grinder,” Howard says.
The 25-year-old long hitter from Fresno State won at the end of ’07 and has a top 10 to his credit this year.