First win in sight for Marino -- or someone -- at Pebble Beach

February 12, 2011
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Steve Marino wouldn't go so far as to say he was due.

Third-round coverage
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A SECOND CHANCE: A quadruple bogey on the par-5 15th ended Bryce Modler's chances at winning in 2010. He's back in contention and seeks redemption this week. Story
MARINO SEEKS THE FIRST: Three-time TOUR runner-up Steve Marino has his his sights set on holding his lead and breaking through for his first victory. Story

After three runner-up finishes, though, including a tie for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii as recently as last month, Marino knows he has the game to win on the PGA TOUR.

"It just has not happened," he said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "... But I feel like I'm good enough to win on this TOUR."

Of course, Marino isn't alone in that belief. And Sunday's final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am looks like it just might provide the forum for someone like him to to break through and finally get that elusive first victory.

Marino owns a one-stroke lead at 12 under despite struggling to a 71 that included a three-putt from 4 feet on the final hole at Monterey Peninsula Country Club on Saturday. It's the third time he's been in that position after 54 holes. Jimmy Walker, meanwhile, played the same course and fired a 63 that moved him into a tie with Bryce Molder, one stroke off the pace.

All three are looking for their inaugural win on TOUR, as is D.A. Points at 10 under and Alex Cejka and Tom Gillis, who are another stroke back. In fact, of the top 10 players on the leaderboard, only three -- Aaron Baddeley, Kevin Sutherland and J.J. Henry, who are tied for seventh -- have TOUR victories, a combined total of four but none since 2007.

Granted, Cejka skews that number slightly since he has 11 international victories, four of which have come on the European Tour. But the last of those came in 2002, the year before he started playing in the United States full-time.

So is experience overrated? Hardly. But everyone has to start somewhere and Sunday at Pebble Beach could be a watershed moment for one of those talented young pros.

"Everybody is going to get their experience somewhere, and for some people, it might be tomorrow," said Marino, who had started the third round with a four-stroke lead. "Everybody is very, very good. So I'm not going to say experience is overrated, but I think sometimes people kind of play it up to be more than it really is."

That said, several of the leaders -- guys like Marino, Molder, Gillis and Cejka -- have played well at Pebble Beach in the past. For various reasons, though, they just haven't gotten over the hump. Yet.

Cejka tied for 10th last year and shared eighth four months later in the U.S. Open, one of just three players who can say they had top-10s in both events. Marino finished fourth in the AT&T a year ago, Gillis tied for eighth and Molder was two strokes off the lead on Sunday before imploding with a 9 on the 14th hole.

"All you can do is laugh," said the solidly grounded Molder. "I remember on that hole last year, after I made a big number, the biggest thought going through my head is, it's not going to be very fun walking into the locker room at Whisper Rock (an exclusive club in Phoenix with many TOUR members), because they are not going to hold back.

"So if you can't laugh about it, then this game is going to get the best of you."

Besides, Molder wasn't the only player to fall victim to that challenging par 5. Just ask Paul Goydos. And when he steps to the first tee on Sunday, Molder knows that he'll control his own destiny.

"Me personally, it can't really change what I do," Molder said. "Unfortunately in golf, you can't play defense on any of the guys, but fortunately in golf, you don't have to. So I can just kind of do what ... I can do.

"(The lack of experence) can certainly change what the outcome is and maybe what the final is. But then again, maybe not. If somebody plays really well, then experience sometimes doesn't matter when you're playing really well."

Marino, who lost in a playoff at the 2009 Crowne Plaza Invitational, has held at least a share of the lead for each of the first three rounds. But there's a different sense of urgency on Sunday with everyone playing the same course at the same time with $1.134 million and 500 FedExCup points on the line.

"It just has a different feel," Marino said. "You know you're not coming back tomorrow. There might be a little bit of tension, a little bit of nerves that you don't feel the first three days. I think that's natural. I think probably anybody would feel that. But it's just basically, that's it. That's it, it's the last day, and then it's over."

And someone like Marino could have the first victory of his career.