Monday, November 29, 1999

Fearsome Pebble Beach to test U.S. Open field

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Tom Watson, 1982 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach and who has seen it all at the fabled Pacific coast course, warned on Wednesday that danger lurks for players at the 110th championship."The golf course is a lot different than when we played it before, in the sense that it's more dangerous," Watson, 60, told reporters on the eve of the tournament.The course has been lengthened by 194 yards since the 2000 Open, four greens have been rebuilt, 11 bunkers altered or added, fairways reshaped and sections of rough shaved.Eliminating rough from the edge of fairways along the coast wards against the bombs-away approach of some big hitters since there is no stopping a ball rolling toward the ocean."It's more dangerous with the fairways being cut right into the hazards. That was the intent. Let's make the hazards come into play," said Watson.Visions of errant tee shots trickling off fairways, down a cliffside onto the beach below might terrify some players."That ball can roll right into the hazards if you get it going sideways a little bit," added Watson, the only player to appear at all five U.S. Opens at Pebble."It puts another question in your mind about playing Pebble Beach, toughens it up.Speaking of the sixth hole that wends up and around a dramatic cliff, Watson said: "If you push it a little right, you're down there with the otters."Twice U.S. Open winner Ernie Els said he found out first-hand that the sands below could be in play."I actually hit one on to the beach the other day on the 10th hole," the big South African said. "If you just leak it there, the cliff comes into the fairway a little bit."I think I could have got down there. I don't know if I would have come back up. I think you might need a rope or something coming up. It will be interesting."TINY GREENSDry weather and ocean breezes have made fairways hard and fast, and Pebble's tiny greens firm and bouncy.Masters champion Phil Mickelson, a five-times runner-up aching for a first U.S. Open triumph, said he feared organisers could have 14 dead greens if they did not water them."There's not any forecast for rain," he said. "I'm certainly concerned that we could have 14 potential seventh holes at Shinnecock."At the 2004 Open, the seventh green had to be syringed with water between groups during the final round to make it playable.Three-times major winner Padraig Harrington was simply relishing the chance to play the Open at the famed layout."This is the fifth U.S. Open at Pebble Beach but it seems a little bit like the home of the U.S. Open in the States," said the Irishman."It's obviously one of the venues that I think stands out in most people's minds. Everybody remembers Tom Watson chipping in (1982), Tiger winning by 15 shots (2000), Nicklaus's one-iron (1972).Defending champion Lucas Glover said everybody has a fighting chance."You'll have a guy hitting it longer and higher that will fly it on to the green and then you'll have guys that hit it lower and shorter that can bounce it up and be just as effective," he said. "That's the beauty of Pebble Beach."(Editing by Alastair Himmer; To query or comment on this story email
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