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February 11 2011

1:01 AM

Scoring averages up in first round

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Conditions were firm and fast Thursday, and Phil Mickelson struggled to a 71.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- A surprisingly dry winter, coupled with picture-perfect weather, has spun the meteorological clock forward on the Monterey Peninsula.

The three courses that make up the rotation for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am are firmer and faster than they normally are in mid-February. Not quite U.S. Open and last June conditions, but the courses are definitely not as soft as usual.

The change is reflected in the scoring averages. The fairways may allow more roll but at the same time, the greens can harder to hold. Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula are all played over par in the first round compared with under par a year ago.

Thursday's scoring average at Pebble Beach was 72.462 compared with 70.885 a year ago. At Spyglass Hill it was 72.444 compared with 71.519 while the numbers at Monterey Peninsual were 70.712 vs. 68.987.

Tom Gillis, who shot 67 at Pebble Beach, said he's never seen conditions like this in February.

"I knew it was going to be tough," Gillis said. "I played yesterday, and I just thought, these greens are so firm and fast, I mean, they're going to have to be careful. If you get a 10-mph wind out here, you got some issues.

“It's in good shape. Don't get me wrong, it's fun. But we're pushing the envelope, especially with the amateurs, because they can't hold any greens.

"If you get above the hole, you could putt it right off the greens.  We're not used to seeing it this way.  I didn't play here in June.  I'm sure it was very similar."

Steve Marino shot a 65 at Spyglass Hill, generally regarded as the more difficult of the three courses. His round of 7 under put him in the lead with D.A. Points, who had a 63 at Monterey Peninsula, the only par 70 in the rota.

Marino called Spyglass, his favorite course, "the longest 6,900 yard golf course ever." It played significantly shorter, though, due to the firm fairways.

"There were a number of holes where I was hitting irons in, like 9-irons and wedges, where I've hit hybrids and 3-woods in before," said.

Alex Cejka, who opened his round with an albatross on the 10th hole, shot a 64 at Monterey Peninsula. He thought the greens there were still a little soft.

"If it's a little bit firmer you hit the balls a little bit further, you hit shorter clubs into the greens," Cejka said. "I don't want say it's playing easier, but it's playing a little bit shorter. The greens are kind of still soft.  They run great, but they're soft.

"What's good is when you hit a 50iron in and you pitch it and you stop it in the next couple feet so you can attack much more flags than normal. Like when we played here for the U.S. Open, it was totally different story.

"I never seen it like this, and I was almost in shock when I get here and played my first practice round, what kind of difference from the tournament that we're playing now in January or February, and then you come in June to the Open.

"So that was a different story. But the weather is nice. It's calm and warm right now, and all three courses are brilliant. We have a couple more rounds to go. We'll see what happens." – Helen Ross

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