PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The fog never rolled in at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, leaving a star-studded field to play four days under spectacular blue skies.
Ted Potter Jr. sure managed to cloud things up, though.
Sunday looked like Dustin Johnson’s for the taking, with the world No. 1 tied for the lead going into the final round, with the big-hitting star in perfect position to take the game by the throat again in a run up to the Masters.
Potter knocked him out.
He knocked out all the heavyweights.
Potter also knocked handicapping charts for the Masters into disarray.
Thirteen events into this wraparound season, six events into the new year, and the final leg of the West Coast swing arrives at Riviera with the top of the game more unsorted and unsettled thanks to Potter’s roundhouse.
“To get it done today, especially playing with the world No. 1, the win here at Pebble is just unbelievable,” said Potter, whose closing 3-under-par 69 left him three shots clear of Johnson (72), Phil Mickelson (67), Jason Day (70) and Chez Reavie (68).
Mickelson, who like Potter is left-handed, was asked what it says about the game that the 264th-ranked player in the world could march onto one of the most iconic venues in the world and beat one of the best fields of the year.
“Pebble Beach and Augusta National are left-handed golf courses,” Mickelson cracked. “I think that’s obvious.”
Yeah, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Masters and who is best positioning themselves for the year’s first major.
Johnson didn’t have his best Sunday, but he won his first PGA Tour start of the year and gave himself a chance in his second start here. He went to Riviera last year and won the first in his run of three victories in a row.
Still, Johnson has failed to win with a 54-hole lead two of the last three times he has held or shared one. He blew a six-shot cushion at the HSBC Champions last fall.
He looks a little less formidable than he did winning in an eight-shot rout at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month.
“Just didn’t have it,” Johnson said Sunday. “It was just one of those days where nothing went my way.
“Ted played well.”
Johnson was uncharacteristically loose with his wedge play. He dumped his ball into a greenside bunker from 76 yards at the fourth, failing to take advantage of birdie position there. He similarly failed to take advantage of chances with wedges in hand at the 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th holes. He knocked an iron into a hazard off the fifth tee.
“Never really got in a rhythm out there,” Johnson said.
Mickelson is stoked about where his game is trending, with his T-2 finish following his tie for fifth last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He looks ready to claim his 43rd PGA Tour title, his first since winning The Open almost five years ago.
“Right now, I’m hitting it as well as I have in a long time,” Mickelson said.
Day didn’t have enough to win Sunday, but this run into contention, combined with his victory two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open, has him trending nicely.
“It’s good,” Day said. “I feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement. My wedge play needs to improve. My iron play needs to improve. My driver’s actually been pretty decent. … If I keep doing what I’m doing, finishing first and second in the first two events, but also improve, and cut out the blemishes, then, hopefully, it will be more like 2015.”
Day’s five victories that year included a major championship and boosted him to world No. 1.
Jordan Spieth could not successfully defend his title this week, but he looks like he’s coming out of that “minor slump” with his putter, something that was an issue in his missing the cut last week in Phoenix.
Spieth needed just 25 putts in his round of 71 Sunday at Pebble Beach, which left him tied for 20th. He holed a monster 54-foot putt for birdie at the fifth.
“I came here kind of searching,” Spieth said. “I seem to have kind of found some answers to some problem areas.”
Like Johnson and Mickelson, Spieth will tee it up at the Genesis Open at Riviera.
“My putter made tremendous progress this week,” Spieth said. “I feel great about it going forward. … The putts I missed today were the ones I misread. I don’t think I put one bad stroke on it, which is the first time I can say that in a long time.”
Rory McIlroy missed the cut here Saturday, but his second- and third-place finishes on the European Tour last month bode well if he can get his putter going better than it was on the poa annua grasses on the Monterey Peninsula. He is also headed to Riviera this week.
“I’ve got six weeks out of the next seven to try and play well and give myself chances to win,” McIlroy said arriving at Pebble Beach. “And I feel like where my game’s at, and how I’m feeling, if I do what I know I can do, I’ll have chances.”
And there should be no ruling out Potter. You don’t beat this field on this iconic course and get dismissed at Augusta National.
“Definitely a big confidence boost,” he said.