Celebrities are everywhere except leaderboard at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

February 8, 2008

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The celebrities at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am – from golf to Hollywood to the corporate boardrooms – could be found just about everywhere on the Monterey Peninsula except on the leaderboard.

That place was reserved Thursday for a group of players who don’t have the Q-rating, the pedigree or very many victories. The top 14 players after one round have combined for 10 wins on the PGA Tour, and that includes the four wins by Tim Herron.

The leader was Kent Jones, with a 6-under 66 at Pebble Beach that featured birdies on two par 3s and no bogeys. Jones has never finished in the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list, nor has he ever finished in the top 5 in any of his previous 270 starts on tour.

Another shot back was Roland Thatcher, best known for hitting a shot on top of the clubhouse roof on the final hole of Q-school, which cost him his card.

All are capable of winning. And while they don’t have the greatest credentials, some of them have plenty of positive vibes at Pebble Beach.

Among the three players at 67 was John Mallinger, whose rookie season last year was boosted by a third-place finish at Pebble Beach. Even with an ailing right shoulder, he wasn’t about to pass on a chance to play here again.

“If it was any other tournament, I probably would have backed out,” Mallinger said. “I like coming up here. I like this place. I feel really comfortable, and I just felt like I should played.”

And there was a pair of past champions at Pebble Beach who checked in at 68.

Todd Demsey won the 1992 California State Amateur at Pebble Beach, a victory that he said vaulted his career. He won the NCAA title at Arizona State a year later, and was headed toward a big career until slowed by back injuries, then the discovery of a tumor in his brain that he had removed a few years ago.

Olin Browne won the Callaway Invitational, an unofficial event at Pebble Beach in 2001.

“This golf course is what golf is supposed to be like,” said Browne, a three-time tour winner who is battling through hand injuries. “You have to play strategy. You have to think your way around. You can’t just blast the ball and be super aggressive on every shot. I think that’s why great players love playing here.”

The biggest names were elsewhere on a spectacular day of sunshine and a cool breezes.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson was on the verge of shooting himself out of the tournament until a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie burst enabled him to recover with a 71, only five shots out of the lead.

There was plenty of star power with Greg Norman, playing on the PGA Tour for the first time in 18 months. He is a Hall of Famer with two British Open titles. Outside the ropes for the final three holes was Chris Evert, winner of 18 Grand Slam events in tennis, now engaged to the Shark. Norman was holding steady until a four-putt for double bogey on the 13th hole sent him to a 76.

“I think I missed his best golf,” Evert said, and she was speaking about the front nine, not the last 25 years.

Evert has no plans to take up golf, saying it was too time-consuming with three boys – “It’s like four boys with Greg,” she said – and a tennis academy to run.

“Tennis only takes one hour,” she said, laughing.

These rounds take close to six hours with two pros and two amateurs in every group, and it was a slow, steady grind.

John Daly opened with a 79 and was in a tie for 177th, and while he had a big gallery, most were there to watch actors Kevin James and Ray Romano. The latter was all too pleased to inform the gallery that he reached the back of the par-5 18th green in two. After making an 8-foot birdie putt, he tossed a $10 bill into the gallery for them to share.

Those who followed Jones around Pebble Beach were mostly there for the views, but they happened to see some good golf.

Jones, a 41-year-old from New Mexico who has yet to finish in the top 100 on the money list, has been around long enough to realize that one round is too early to get excited, especially in a format that uses three courses, and in a tournament where the leaderboard doesn’t begin to sort itself out until Sunday.

“I think I’m just satisfied that I played well and putted well,” Jones said. “When everyone is playing different golf courses, being in the lead isn’t every important. But it’s nice to be playing well, obviously.”

Davis Love III, returning to the PGA Tour for the first time in four months after a severe ankle injury, overcame an early gaffe on the par-5 14th at Spyglass with three birdies on his back nine for a 70. Vijay Singh also had a 70 while playing in the same group as an LPGA Tour player. That would be Natalie Gulbis, who caddied for Singh’s amateur partner, IMG owner Ted Forstmann.

Mickelson, meanwhile, was simply thrilled to be even remotely near the lead.

Lefty had big expectations for his week as he tries to become the first back-to-back winner at Pebble Beach since Mark O’Meara in 1989-90. But he bogeyed his first two holes, had to save par from the fringe on the par-5 ninth, then clipped a tree and went into the water on the par-5 10th, taking another bogey, putting him at 4 over for the round.

Poppy Hills has five par 5s, and Mickelson played the first three in 2 over.

“I was just trying to get back to even par,” Mickelson said. “If I shot 3 or 4 over, I would be shooting myself out of the tournament.”

Instead, he shot himself back into it.