February 08, 2012

Woods completes preparation for Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Looking trim, relaxed and confident, Tiger Woods concluded his preparation for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Wednesday by playing a practice round at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, his first look at the challenging Shore Course. Playing in near cloudless conditions with huge waves crashing in the background, Woods and Arjun Atwal toured the course in relative anonymity, with fewer than 50 people following them.

Monterey Peninsula Country Club, a sprawling 36-hole property that weaves through sand dunes and offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, is one of three courses in the tournament, along with Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill. About a 10-minute drive from Pebble Beach Golf Links, several holes parallel historic 17-Mile Drive. The Shore Course replaced Poppy Hills Golf Course, owned by the Northern California Golf Association, in 2010 and has been well-received by pros and amateurs.

“I like it,” said Woods, who is competing in the tournament for the first time since 2002. “There are some tricky holes. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing.”

Sean Foley, Woods’ swing coach, was also on hand to offer advice and encouragement.

Monterey Peninsula Country Club was previously used during the tournament for 20 years — 18 times on the Dunes Course and now for a fifth time on the Shore Course. The latter was redesigned by the late Mike Strantz in 2005 and received rave reviews.

More times than not, deer outnumber the players. Some participants pulled out video cameras and iPhones to take pictures of the deer Wednesday.

Woods and Atwal, who have long enjoyed playing practice rounds together and are close friends, spent much of the round needling each other but were also appreciative of good shots. While they were all business — learning sight lines off the tees and into many of the mounded greens, and becoming familiar with the putting surfaces — it was a good walk unspoiled.

Late in the round, two young girls with their fathers held up signs for Woods. One of them read: “I’m playing hooky from school today – please help me with my homework.” Woods couldn’t resist and happily autographed flags for the girls.

Afterward, Woods went to the practice range to fine-tune his swing for Thursday’s first round. He’s scheduled to start at difficult Spyglass Hill at 1:01 p.m. ET on the 10th tee with Atwal and amateurs Tony Romo and Danny Lane. Woods and Romo, a scratch player, will partner together for the first three rounds with hopes of making the cut for Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach, the goal of all 156 amateurs in the field and a source of great bragging rights.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Woods said. “It should be fun.”

The foursome will play Monterey Peninsula on Friday and are slated to begin at 12:17 p.m. on the first tee. On Saturday, they move to Pebble Beach, where they will start at 11:22 a.m. off the 10th tee.

The weather forecast is good, and ticket sales have been brisk, with more than 30,000 fans expected Saturday.