New Pebble Beach, Same U.S. Open

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The last time Matt Gogel was walking the fairways of Pebble Beach, he watched a seven-stroke lead disappear on the back nine as Tiger Woods stormed to his sixth straight PGA Tour victory.

That wasn't even on Gogel's mind Monday.

``This might not even be the same golf course,'' Gogel said after a practice round on a breezy, sunny day that featured thick rough, tight fairways and hard, fast greens.

Pebble Beach takes on a new look when the U.S. Open comes to town, and not just because Tommy Smothers is not around to do yo-yo tricks.

They call the U.S. Open the toughest test in golf for a reason.

``This is the kind of golf course, the way it's set up, where you have to put the ball on the fairway and put the ball on the green,'' Jack Nicklaus said after his practice round Monday. ``If you do that .... well, you're not going to do that. It's going to be a difficult golf course to get the ball up and down.''

The second hole, a generous par-5 that routinely yielded birdies in the past three U.S. Opens at Pebble Beach, is now playing as a 484-yard par-4.

Rough that was supposed to be a nuisance has become nasty, leveled off at 4 inches and capable of making balls sink to the bottom. If that wasn't enough, Nicklaus winced when he saw workers watering the rough late in the day.

``It's long, it's gnarly, it's thick,'' Nicklaus said. ``I thought they might take water off so we could have half a chance to play a reasonable shot.''

Compounding matters are the greens, which already were rolling at 11 on the Stimpmeter. They never got beyond 11 all week at Pinehurst No. 2 in last year's U.S. Open.

Who knows what awaits when the shots actually count on Thursday.

``It all depends on the weather,'' said two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal. ``If the wind blows, the conditions will be quite severe. You don't need a really strong wind here to make a difference.''

The rough — and the small greens — take care of the rest.

The USGA talked all year about how the rough would be minimal, similar to the 3 inches at Pinehurst No. 2 for last year's championship. But three weeks ago, USGA director of rules and competition Tom Meeks was tossing balls into the high grass and noticed too many of them sitting up, as if on tees, because of the dense Rye grass.

By adding an extra inch, the ball will sink deeper into the grass and make the players think twice about trying to reach the green.

``You're going to see different options,'' he said. ``The last thing we want is to have them hitting sand wedge out of the rough. Sometimes, that's all they can do. But we want to see them have more than one option to play the shot.''

The best option is to not miss fairways and greens, which is no small task.

``I don't know who's leading the PGA Tour in greens in regulation, but whatever that average is, it's going to be down after this week,'' Meeks said. ``These greens are so small. Someone who hits 10 or 12 greens, they should come up with a pretty good round.''

Meeks wouldn't predict a winning score.

The lowest winning score in Open history at Pebble Beach was 282 by Tom Watson in 1982. The lowest score in relation to par in Open history anywhere is 8-under 272 by Lee Janzen and Nicklaus.

In 1992 at Pebble Beach, Gil Morgan got to 12 under in the third round before a collapse — he had a 77-81 on the weekend and finished at 5-over 293.

Meeks only promised consistency — at least on his part.

``If after Thursday we've got 25 guys at 4 under, we're not going to change the course on Friday,'' he said. ``And if the low score is 4 over, we're not going to do anything to change that, either.''

The wind, however, can have a mind of its own. And that's one aspect of Pebble Beach that never seems to change.