On a gusty day when mother nature turned the picturesque course into a monster, the front runners faced an even more daunting challenge in Nick Taylor.
The Canadian fired a 2-under 70 to complete a comfortable four-stroke win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the iconic golf links. Taylor led all four rounds, becoming the first to claim a wire-to-wire victory at the event since Phil Mickelson in 2005.
“I wish I could have birdied and given Nick a challenge, but Nick won this,” says Kevin Streelman, who battled the wind well enough to forge a round of 4-under and take second, edging Mickelson by a single stroke.
Although Taylor admitted to some nervousness going into the final round with a slim lead over Mickelson and Jason Day hanging close, he appeared unruffled throughout the day. He recovered from bogeys on 8, 11 and 12, as well as a double bogey on 14 that briefly brought him back to even on the day, sealing the win with birdies on 15 and 17.
“That was amazing,” he told the crowd after lofting the trophy. “I believed I could do it because I’ve done it before, but to do it in that fashion, playing with Phil, gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”
The title is only his second on the PGA Tour since Taylor turned pro in 2015. He is also the first Canadian to win the pro-am.
With the wind drying out the greens and sending ripples of uncertainty through the field, Taylor’s accuracy with the driver and control on longer putts held up for the most part. Other golfers struggled noticeably.
“Even if you did get it to five or six feet it was no gimme,” explains Charl Schwartzel, who finished in a tie for fifth. “The first three days were good, but today—it was a tough day.”
It was a refrain heard throughout the field. Gusting winds made club selection difficult and nudged putts off line, especially on holes 8, 11 and 12.
“They’re very exposed,” Viktor Hovland said of the three. “And the greens were tough.”
Mickelson, who remained in contention after round three thanks to a series of miraculous shots, suffered more than others at the top of the leaderboard. After threatening for the lead through 7, his round fell apart.
On 8, Mickelson’s chip from beyond the green rolled onto the fringe. He then pitched past the pin and his putt rimmed out. He carded a double bogey, followed by a bogey on 9. And when Taylor ran into misfortune after the turn, Mickelson—who was seeking a record sixth win at the pro-am—could not take advantage. He lost strokes on 12, 14 and 16.
It’s disappointing certainly to have not won, but I got outplayed,” Mickelson explains. “I mean, Nick played better than I did.”
Jason Day finished in third, 8 strokes behind Taylor.
For a time the final round seemed like a match play contest between Taylor and Mickelson. When both found trouble, however, it offered a little hope to the others.
“I saw the leaderboard and saw those guys were coming back—quickly,” Schwartzel recalls.
But battered by steady winds up to 20 miles per hour, few could keep up Taylor’s pace. Matt Every began the day within sight of the leader but carded an 8-over 80 to finish in a tie for 32nd. Hovland, who won the 2018 U.S. Amateur on the course, ended with a 5-over 77 on the day. Matthew Fitzpatrick wrapped up at 79, 7 over for the round.
“I played like crap today,” he says. “The putt I had on 18 was ridiculous.”
Only four golfers put in rounds under 70. Jordan Spieth fared better than all the rest, charging through the field thanks to a 5-under 67. He gained 46 places on the day to end up with a top ten finish.
On the team side, Streelman and amateur Larry Fitzgerald took the crown. For Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver and future NFL Hall of Famer, it marks the second time he claimed the amateur title.
But the remaining amateurs also struggled under the conditions. Fitzgerald picked up his ball as often as he completed a hole. And Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could only shrug after completing his round.
“I couldn’t read these greens,” he points out. “It’s not my caddie’s fault.”
Venture capitalist Mary Meeker summed up the challenge for an amateur in a championship round.
“There’s a reason why they call them Sunday pin placements—they are for professionals, not amateurs,” she says, adding “I had a blast.”