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Dustin Johnson captures course, hearts on temperate Valentine’s Day at AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

Zachary Michael JackBy Zachary Michael Jack,
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This year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am climaxed with Dustin Johnson's go-for-broke birdie on the 72nd hole. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Weather dominated the 25th anniversary staging of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but not the sort of weather for which the event has become famous - or infamous.

This year, Mother Nature saw fit to dispense with the damp, treating participants and spectators alike to four consecutive days of made-for-television blue skies, light winds and roaring turquoise surf. The event climaxed with repeat champ Dustin Johnson's go-for-broke birdie on the 72nd hole and his happy Valentine's Day wish to a grandstand of fans gathered in celebration of his successful tournament defense.

Asked which was sweeter, his storm-shortened 54-hole crowning in 2009 or this year's 72-hole slog, Johnson said, "It's hard to say one win is better than the other. ... Obviously it's great to win back to back years, so that’s awesome."

Big waves in Carmel Bay drew more oos and ahs than the eventual champion's blistering 64 at Spyglass Hill Golf Course on Saturday, where an undersized gallery tracked his romp through the inland pines. Meanwhile, madding crowds followed funnymen Bill Murray and George Lopez, square-jawed quarterbacks Tony Romo and Tom Brady, and surf legend Kelly Slater on picturesque Pebble Beach Golf Links. TV cameras showed Slater ogling mondo waves that topped the seawall on the home hole and sent ocean spray high enough to reach Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo atop the CBS tower.

A strong field of pros, headlined by heavy hitters Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington, turned out for the Tiger-less tourney to study up on changes made in the classic track in advance of the 2010 U.S. Open. USGA Senior Director Mike Davis has tightened fairways, pushing them close to the cliffs on Pebble's most epic holes - 6, 8, 9, 10 - creating novel, and daunting, sightlines.

While a trim, focused Phil Mickelson failed to mount the hoped-for weekend charge, he celebrated the tournament's well deserved fortunes. "The weather's been spectacular," he said. "I'm so happy for them because we've had a run in the past where it hasn't been the best. But to be able to play Pebble in this condition and this type of weather is just amazing."

Lefty may have understated the case. At the 1990 AT&T, 40 mile-per-hour winds blew the Goodyear Blimp backwards. In 1998, El-Nino-driven storms postponed the final round until August, resulting in "the longest-running golf tournament in the world." In 2009, tournament officials canceled the fourth round as yet another inauspicious winter storm moved ashore, and the 24-year-old, 54-hole leader Johnson was declared winner.

Once again damp, the 2010 Pro-am offered participants an olive branch in the form of lift, clean and place for the first three rounds. But beyond the soft conditions, the 2010 staging turned up nothing but blue skies and happy anniversaries. This year's tourney marked 25 straight years of AT&T's sponsorship, the longest run of any title sponsor with the exception of Honda and its Honda Classic. Spectators continue to reap dividends from AT&T's and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation's fine track record of tournament hosting, and nearby Carmel-by-the-sea's reputation for classy, if not exclusive, hospitality.

This year's pro-am successfully mixed the new with the old, adding Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course to the three-course rota and trimming the amateur field to nix six-hour rounds, all while preserving the tourney's visible links to the past - manual scoreboards, plus four-bedecked marshals and tasteful, nearly hidden, concessions.

While some feel the iconic event peaked in the late 1980s, when attendance neared 150,000 and Bill Murray and Jack Lemmon graced fairways together as clown princes, the laid-back, levity-filled vibe persists. And because most of the celeb-watchers and autograph hounds bear down on Pebble on Saturday, serious golf fans can revel in the relative desertion of off-peak courses and days, where clambake-esque picnic baskets can still be seen greenside.

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Former newspaper sports writer and editor Zachary Michael Jack is the editor of many essay collections on the environment and outdoor life. He specializes in writing about golf. Zachary is the author of "The Links of Evalon" and edited "Inside the Ropes: Sportswriters Get Their Game On."

 
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