Three players to watch at Pebble Beach

February, 7, 2012
Few courses around the world can match the beauty of Pebble Beach Golf Links.

"Beautiful" isn't the adjective one would use to describe some of Bill Murray's wardrobe choices.

Trivia question

Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour? (Answer below)

Regardless of Murray's choice of headwear last year, he left with the trophy. The "Caddyshack" star teamed with D.A. Points for a 2-stroke victory over Hunter Mahan at the 2011 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Three on the tee fails to include Carl Spackler this week, but does give you the numbers behind three players to watch this week at Pebble:

SPENCER LEVIN: For every great reclamation story in sports, there's a player or team on the other side that takes the brunt end of defeat. In the PGA Tour career file of Kyle Stanley, that dubious description belongs to Levin, who frittered away a 6-shot lead he held entering the final round of last week's Waste Management Open.

Levin's blown 6-stroke advantage is tied for the largest 54-hole lead lost in PGA Tour history. Before Levin, it had been done five other times -- most famously at the 1996 Masters by Greg Norman.

Could we see another redemption story this weekend? Levin will be in the field at Pebble Beach, where he has just one top-10 finish in three starts in this event, but has scored very well. Ten of Levin's 11 career rounds in the Pro-Am have been below par, and he's a combined 21-under here in three starts.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Pebble Beach has been the site of two of Johnson's greatest accomplishments on the PGA Tour -- victories in this event in 2009 and 2010. It was also the site of his most regrettable front nine. At the 2010 U.S. Open, Johnson started the final round with a 3-shot lead. He was 6-over through his first four holes, and before he knew it he had carded a final-round 82.

The world's 10th-ranked player (he's the highest in the field this week) has struggled a bit on the greens in his return from offseason knee surgery. Through two completed events, Johnson is 146th in strokes gained -- putting, 135th in total putting and 152nd in putting inside 10 feet. A familiar venue (and another week playing at full speed) could be the recipe to get him back on track this week.

HUNTER MAHAN: After missing the cut last week in Qatar, the 21st-ranked player in the world will look for his third straight top-10 finish in official PGA Tour events this week. Mahan finished tied for sixth at Torrey Pines in his season debut, and closed 2011 with a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship.

Mahan was exceptional in his runner-up finish at this event a year ago, finishing tied for fourth in the field in greens in regulation (53-for-72, 73.6 percent). Mahan's track record here isn't great -- 2011 was his only top-10 finish in this event -- and he missed the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open.

Tiger Woods makes his 2012 PGA Tour debut this week at Pebble Beach, a place he undoubtedly has some fond memories of. Woods of course had one of the most impressive displays in major championship history at the 2000 U.S. Open, when he won by 15 shots. It's the largest margin of victory for anyone in a major.

This will be Tiger's first start at this event since 2002. The winless streak for Woods in official worldwide events since his last victory (remembering that December's Chevron isn't in the "official" category) is now 26 events. His PGA Tour winless streak now stands at 22.

Tiger has been exceptional at Pebble Beach on the weekend during his career, with a career scoring average of 68.92 (at this event and in the two U.S. Opens he played held at Pebble). Eight of his career 13 PGA Tour weekend rounds have been below 70, including five rounds of 67 or lower.

Compare that, though, to his weekend numbers during the winless stretch on this tour. Since Tiger's last PGA Tour victory at the 2009 BMW Championship, his third- and fourth-round scoring average is 70.80. Of his 35 weekend rounds during that span, just 12 have been in the 60s (34.3 percent). Only four of Tiger's 12 weekend rounds on the PGA Tour last year were sub-70.

Should Woods snap his drought in his home state of California, it would be a familiar sight for Golden State golf fans. Tiger has won 13 times on the PGA Tour in California. That's his highest total in any state, with Florida coming in second (12 wins). Woods has won 11 times in Ohio and seven times each in Georgia and Illinois.

Trivia answer

Question: Before Spencer Levin last week, who was the last player to lose a 6-shot lead with 18 holes to play on the PGA Tour?

Answer: Sergio Garcia at the 2005 Wachovia Championship.

In 15 full seasons of the PGA Tour, Tiger has won his season debut six times, and finished in the top 10 in 13 of those starts. However, this will be the first time in Woods' career that he has opened his PGA Tour season at Pebble Beach.

Woods has opened his season eight times at the then-named Mercedes Championships, and five times at Torrey Pines, including last year. Pebble is the fourth different course to host Woods' PGA Tour season debut over the past four years. The other events since 2009: the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Masters and the aforementioned Torrey Pines.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to



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